New Garden: Tempers reach fever pitch in Aqua rate hike debate12/07/2022 10:53AM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
The public comment portion of the New Garden Board of Supervisors Dec. 6 meeting escalated into a shouting match between a supervisor and a member of Keep Water Affordable (KWA), as tensions continue to rise in the aftermath of the sale of the township’s wastewater system to Aqua, a transaction that has led to the soaring sewer costs for Aqua ratepayers in the township.
In his comments, KWA spokesman Pete Mrozinksi lashed out at the board for what he called a show of “hypocrisy” and altering the format of the Nov. 21 meeting that invited Aqua executives, township officials and ratepayers in order to “play right into Aqua’s hands.”
“We’ve heard a lot from our neighbors and others who have taught us of their absolute disappointment with the board, and I am sure that you must have heard some of that directly yourselves,” he began. Looking up from his notes, Mrozinski asked supervisor Ted Gallivan to pay attention to his comments, rather than look at his phone.
“Keep going, Pete, keep going,” said Gallivan, who said he was setting his phone to the allotted three-minute time limit allowed for public comment. “I have heard all of this before.”
When township solicitor William Christman informed Mrozinski of the time limit, he questioned whether or not the township has ever enforced the time limit. Making reference to the Nov. 21 meeting, Mrozinski called the supervisors “hypocritical” for rearranging the meeting’s format that limited public comment to three-minute slots at the end of the meeting and cut back on the time to pose more questions to Aqua and the township.
“Second, you chose to follow Aqua’s bidding,” Mrozinski continued. “You claimed to be opposed to Aqua’s proposed takeover of the Chester Water Authority. Yet, you did the bidding of Aqua. You set up that meeting purposely to play right into Aqua’s hands so that there was no real information shared. You told us that we had your agreement that we would have part of the agenda. On the day of the meeting, we were told that the board had decided against it.”
Mrozinski went on to accuse the meeting’s moderator – Ryan Jennings from the firm of Unrush, Turner, Burke & Frees – of treating the ratepayers “like misbehaved children.”
“Not one of you said anything about that,” he said. “You sat there. Did you really enjoy watching your constituents being humiliated by that guy?”
As the buzzer sounded off to end Mrozinski’s time, he continued his comments.
“Your constituents now are questioning your allegiance. Do you intend to continue supporting Aqua in its cover-up of the sale, or are you actions just because you don’t know what’s going on. In either case, you are unfit to represent us.”
Gallivan asked Mrozinski to sit down, but Mrozinski refused.
“You have no idea what is going on,” he said. “You should all resign today.”
“Sit down!” Gallivan said. “You are being disruptive! Sit down!”
“Why are you not listening?” Mrozinski said.
“Sit down!” Gallivan repeated.
‘Help us fight them’
After Mrozinski returned to his seat, ratepayer Michael Picarella told the board that the township and the Aqua ratepayers have developed “an adversarial relationship,” one that became apparent at the Nov. 21 meeting.
“We’re all in the same boat,” he said. “You all live in the same township that we live in. I think we have a common enemy, which in this case is Aqua. The deal is done. We understand that. However, there were a lot of issues that we uncovered that I would have liked to have presented to Aqua to put them on the defensive – to have them answer questions. We didn’t have that opportunity, and I was disappointed. I was thankful that you put that meeting together, and I was looking forward to it, but what it ended up being was something different.
“Help us fight them. We don’t want to fight you.”
KWA member Bill Hoffman told the board that the Nov. 21 meeting was the latest in a long trail of cover-ups, distortions and deceptions perpetuated in part by the township.
“You had an opportunity to serve New Garden residents by exploring what really happened and what went on, but you went down the cover-up road instead,” Hoffman said. “The question is, ‘Why?’ It certainly appears that the whole board was in on it. I suspect that you were hoping to bury the issue, but the reality is that you poured gasoline on the fire.”
Ratepayer Claire Aiello then read the remainder of Mrozinski’s statement.
“KWA has spent long hours digging into the records of the sewer sale and we have uncovered many instances of deception, misinformation and conflicting information,” she read. “The decision to sell had obviously been made before the issue was brought in front of the public, and all of the information presented to us was designed to support that decision.”
Calling for fair solutions, ratepayer Paul Skopowski called on the supervisors “to fix the problem and make things better.” He suggested a possible solution that has already been on the discussion table before: a tax credit or rebate for all Aqua ratepayers, in order to offset some of the rising wastewater costs they are absorbing.
“Can we partner with the Board of Supervisors on looking at how the Public Utilities Commission and the Office of Consumer Advocacy have handled this?” he added. “I don’t think they handled it right. I don’t know on what planet a utilities commission advocates for higher prices than [were originally submitted].”
‘There was no cover-up’
In response to several ratepayers’ comments implying that the board has not properly vetted their questions and concerns regarding their soaring sewer bills – and that the agenda for the Nov. 21 was unfairly changed -- board co-chairwoman Kristie Brodowski said that on Nov. 11, the board responded to KWA’s questions, and that the questions were woven within the township’s presentation.
“To say that the agenda was changed the day of the meeting is completely unfair,” she said. “There was no cover-up. We were attempting to get this information out to the public. We were there until 11:15 at night. We would still be there if we didn’t limit the questions to three minutes, and I’m really, really sorry. That stunk, but we tried to format the meeting in a way that we could have an information session in the beginning, so that questions could hopefully be answered by people along the way, and anyone who still had remaining questions would have the opportunity to continue asking those questions.”
Brodowski then addressed the reams of information that have been circulated around the township by groups like KWA.
“Some of the nonsense that is going around is really unfair,” she said. “We have tried to fight for you guys, we really have. I know that that doesn’t feel good enough, but I cannot un-sell the sewer system. None of us can. It’s done. It’s a contract.”
Board member David Unger urged those ratepayers who are entrenched in the word battle of getting their message known throughout the township to “consider who your messages are.”
“Your messenger is just as important as your message,” he said. “I would ask KWA to think about who they are putting up as the faces of their organization. Is it someone that is going to grandstand, be dramatic and accuse us of corruption, or is it people who are going to want an honest answer?
“When you come off as adversarial, it’s going to be reciprocated.”
“KWA has been inciting people to come after the board,” Gallivan added. “The emails we have received as a board have been incredibly obnoxious. I am embarrassed to say that I am a resident of New Garden, given the emails we have gotten. I have been accused of bribery. I am a CPA, and to be accused of bribery is way beyond my professional certification.”
Board Chairman Steve Allaband referred to the establishment of an Aqua Sewer Advisory Committee, a consortium made up of Aqua employees and township ratepayers that is scheduled to be formed in 2023. He said that in the coming weeks, the township will be looking to recruit township representatives for the committee.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].
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