A surprising vote from an outgoing member of Trappe Council
and a surprisingly important absence of the Mayor Connie Peck at Tuesday’s 2013
close-out meeting led to the indefinite tabling of the merger between
Collegeville-Trappe Joint Public Works (Public Works) into the Collegeville-Trappe Municipal Authority (CTMA), years in the making.
The meeting capped off roughly six months of heated debate on the subject at public meetings, on top of several years of consideration between Collegeville and Trappe boroughs, to merge Public Works, a committee that runs the water system and maintenance for Collegeville and Trappe boroughs, into CTMA, an authority that runs the sewer for the boroughs.
Council President Fred Schuetz, along with Paul Edwards, Lew DiPrete and Marshall Stomel, have voiced support for merging Public Works into CTMA. The authority is currently governed by three residents of each borough, as opposed to public works, which is governed by, and all decisions are approved by, borough council members.
“Committee actions go back to each council for 14 members to offer opinion, solicitor review, and action,” said Council President Fred Schuetz at the October council meeting. “This could mean months of controversy and inaction.”
Schuetz cited the storied tension between Trappe and Collegeville Boroughs.
“Municipal services are intended to be provided such that common boundaries of the two political sub-divisions are obliterated and a single maintenance district is established.”
Council members Nevin Scholl, Tammy Liberi and Cathy Johnson have voiced opposition to the Public Works merger, along with Pat Webster, who will take Stomel’s place on the board come January.
Scholl cites the $14 million in combined assets that should be “under direct control of the boroughs.” Webster has frequently referenced a 1990 agreement between the parties that stated the two should be merged into Public Works.
“We just don’t see a good reason to change our agreement and direction now,” Scholl said.
Collegeville Borough, CTMA and Public Works all support merging into an authority.
The board, with lame duck majority, was poised on Tuesday to approve the dissolution 4-3 after entering into intermunicipal service agreements with Perkiomen and Upper Providence Townships that would eliminate the Pennsylvania Utility Commission (PUC) from overseeing Public Works, allowing for a simple majority vote to dissolve Public Works as opposed to a two-thirds majority required if under PUC control.
The intermunicipal agreements are needed to provide services outside of Trappe and Collegeville boroughs to several homes in neighboring townships, and without them, Public Works is subject to PUC oversight.
In last-minute efforts in November and December, both Perkiomen and Upper Providence Township passed resolutions to create the intermunicipal agreements.
The first action of the Trappe's meeting was a hearing to approve those agreements, allowing the dissolution of Public Works to be approved by a simple majority.
Council members debated over intermunicipal agreements, questioning if they were similar enough to approve.
“The actual ordinance does not agree with what we have here,” said Scholl, comparing the documents.
CTMA solicitor Paul Mullin of Mullin, Hamberg, Maxwell and Lupin assured board members that he created all of the documents and they should be similar, but the attack quickly turned to his office’s “contract control” and “contract management” from Liberi and Johnson.
Conversations with Mullin became downright nasty at certain points of the debate.
“You know you’re going to be filing a lawsuit come January anyway,” Mullin said to Liberi.
Council also brought up the issue of documents not being available until Tuesday afternoon, placing manager Jacquie Guenther on the defensive.
“I was not instructed to put that on the agenda, nor was I told we needed to include it,” Guenther said of a water services agreement that needed to be approved for the dissolution.
As expected, after debate, the board voted 4-3 to approve the intermunicipal agreements.
Mayor Connie Peck’s Vacation, Stomel’s Surprise Vote
At that point, Peck’s vacation in North Carolina became more important than anyone expected it to be.
Trappe Solicitor David Onorato, who deferred to Mullin for much of the debate over the intermunicipal agreements, told the board that without Peck’s signature on the resolution that night, the intermunicipal agreements were not approved, and a two-thirds vote was still required to pass the documents to merge Public Works into CTMA, as though it was still governed by the PUC.
“You are taking action dependent on [the intermunicipal agreements] being passed, but they haven’t been approved yet,” said Onorato, noting that Peck had ten days to sign the documents.
After a five minute recess and talking with Mullin, both Edwards and Schuetz agreed that the board should continue with the votes to approve the dissolution.
During discussion on the Agreement of Dedication of Water Assets, the first of 15 dissolution documents, Scholl pointed out several concerns in the document, including Trappe turning over Waterworks Park to CTMA.
Scholl also pointed out that the board was not made aware of specifics of the agreement until Tuesday afternoon.
Stomel agreed that the execution of the vote was poor.
“Philosophy-wise, I’m in total agreement [of merging into authority]” Stomel said. “But I’m very disappointed at how this is being executed.”
Liberi said that Mullin had more information than was provided to the board members.
“If you have something that we don’t have, and we don’t see, can you give us a copy of what you have so that we all have what you have?” asked Liberi.
Par for the course in Trappe, the debate became colorful (see video).
After roughly an hour of back and forth between board members, Mullin and Onorato, Stomel stopped debate.
“[Scholl] is raising a lot of good questions,” Stomel said. “If [Onorato] said, again, if we have four votes tonight they really don’t count unless [Peck] magically appears, which I don’t think is going to happen, what are we doing here?”
After a silence, Edwards suggested that the board vote with no more discussion.
“I think we can all save ourselves a lot of grief if we just put it to a vote,” Edwards said.
“This exercise of going through the agreement is good, but do we really have the votes for it, and do we want to spend the time tonight on this?” Johnson said. “There are a lot of things that are confusing and missing, and we never really had a chance to hammer it out together."
Stomel then voted with Johnson, Liberi and Scholl, tabling the vote. Schuetz, DiPrete and Edwards voted against tabling the motion.
The board may take up the subject again, though those in favor of merging into the authority will be in the minority.