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Trappe Tables CTMA, Public Works Merger in Surprise Vote

The board’s close-out meeting was the last time a majority of board members would be in support of merging Public Works into CTMA for at least four years.

Trappe Borough Council Credit: Brittany.
Trappe Borough Council Credit: Brittany.

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.

Intermunicipal Agreements

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.

Joe Black January 01, 2014 at 08:19 AM
There is so much to be said here but first and foremost huge kudos to Marshall Stomel for having the morals and courage to do the right thing. Fred Schuetz and his so called 'Trusted Team' have been pulling these shenanigans for years and this was his last chance (for now but the voters beware) to once and for all screw the people of Trappe and be a puppet for Collegeville. Good riddance to Fred and his gang as the majority vote is now out of their grasp. A big thank you to Council members Nevin Scholl, Tammy Liberi and Cathy Johnson for protecting the citizens of Trappe from (once again) the shenanigans of Collegeville Borough in this attempted financial coup. And finally let us not forget CTMA solicitor Paul Mullin of Mullin, Hamberg, Maxwell and Lupin as one can only quote the poem written in in 1513 by Walter Scott ‘Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first practice to deceive’.
Steven Kurcik January 02, 2014 at 09:02 AM
Thank God it is 2014 and Mr. Schuetz's reign of terror is over. Fred and his cronies had six years to accomplish their agenda, and what happened in the end? It all blew up in his face. Fred is responsible for doing all the dirty work for the deception and power and money grab being orchestrated behind the scene and behind closed doors by Collegeville. This is how they like to operate. Fred and Mr. Edwards must like operating this way also, as they met outside the meeting room in the hallway trying anything they and Mr. Mullin could think of to move forward with their agenda. Fred where do you get off thinking you and whoever else was privy to turning over borough owned property to CTMA? Like I told you to your face, you are not the CZAR of Trappe. This property is not yours, Mr. Edwards, or Mr. Dipretes' to give away. This property as well as borough hall belongs to the people of Trappe, the tax payers and the rate payers. If you want to give something away that you do have control of, give your homes to CTMA, and let me know how your wives and family feel about it. Mr. Schuetz, you have had an agenda since day one, and you have deceived and lied to the people you are supposed to be serving, and you sir have pulled those around you down to your true level. You were the one who went to Perkiomen Township and Upper Providence Township at the eleventh hour with all of this. You did not want to give anyone involved the time they needed to move forward on this issue, you were forcing it upon them. And that is not how any true leader or government should operate. We have to put up with this crap from Harrisburg and Washington DC, but not here at home and especially not from you. You and your cronies are responsible for all of the time and money that was wasted on this process, remember Fred you choose to do it this way. You want to stream line things at CTMA and public works, so does everyone else involved. But doing things your way does not work, neither does bringing another attorney into this mess. That was all your doing Fred, so don't blame ANYONE else. Some of the employees were in attendance as well. No one from either side have any issue with the employees of public works. And no one wants to take away anything from them. How come they don't have a contract Fred? Over three years on your watch and no contract. Maybe the plan was to allow the authority to determine the new contract, with no approval from the elected borough officials. This is not a good idea, and having checks and balances is always a good idea.
Bob Swartley January 02, 2014 at 10:06 AM
Trust is an earned thing and never implied. Thank you Marshall and see you later to The Un-Trusted Team. 2014 is looking good for Trappe !!
Eppart Retah January 02, 2014 at 01:34 PM
As a Trappe resident I am ashamed of the conduct of our local elected officials and the adolescent comments regarding this article. Agree or disagree with the merits of this proposed action, disparaging members of the opposition only shows immaturity and quite frankly probably some weird suppressed anger issues. All members of Trappe Borough Council are volunteers and I assume put in many hours trying to improve our community. Let's grow up and if that is not possible please seek some professional help.
Steven Kurcik January 02, 2014 at 07:29 PM
Dear Eppart, you need to educate yourself about the facts of what has taken place, and what was intended to take place. Because if you knew what was going on, it would get your temperature up. It did mine, and last time I checked I still live in America, and have a right to post my opinion HERE. You could not do that at a borough council meeting for the last five years because Mr. Schuetz had the gavel. I care about this town, and the tax payers and rate payers. If you don't like the truth, than I can't help you and maybe you should seek some help or some common sense.
Irina Bronislava January 02, 2014 at 09:14 PM
Trappe Hater (Eppart Retah spelled backwards) is likely just that: a backwards thinker having something to do with CTMA/Public Works union employee or Collegeville Council member who stood to financially benefit from the CTMA SuperAuthority's future fleecing of Trappe ratepayers. I have read all of the articles and blogs about this, for it reminds me of the country my family left to come here: where a small group of corrupt men collected all the power "for the common good" and misused it. This caught my attention. Trappe always runs at a budget surplus; Collegeville always runs at a deficit: the Authority could give unsecured loans to Collegeville, raise rates any time it wanted, spend money however it wanted, buy up properties and even other Authorities - yet no longer answer to elected representatives of any community it serves. Like the Politboro in Russia. Trappe Hater, may I remind you that Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot and others were also volunteers seeking to improve their communities. Your point, if there was one, is fatuous. I think it was a beef-witted, desperate, egregiously vacuous attempt on your part to dissuade smart readers from voicing the truth about this immoral Authority. To the other posters: Thank you for paying attention to your local government, something many Americans fail miserably to do then always seem surprised when bad decisions begin to affect them. I love this country.
Joe Black January 03, 2014 at 10:18 AM
Jamie thanks for the good eye in catching that Eppart Retah is Trappe Hater spelled backwards. And thank you for your comments as you are right on the mark. I believe that the fact that someone posted under that name says it all and especially when they do not get their way. Why does Collegeville Borough look at Trappe Borough for money? Good question when all Collegeville would need to do is cut costs. After all they do not need a police department except for the fact that Ursinus College has always run the town. Well I say let Ursinus pay their fair share of the taxes as the tuition for EACH student for the year 2013/2014 is $44,530. But Ursinus does not pay one red cent in taxes and continues to acquire real estate and remove properties from being taxed. The last one purchased (and this hurts) was the Marzella property (Marzella’s Pizza) at 488 E Main Street. In EVERY business relationship that Trappe Borough has had with Collegeville, Collegeville has taken advantage of Trappe. The joint police force in the seventies, maintenance of traffic lights, sewers, etc. In reference to sewers and water (the point of this article) is where Trappe was being gouged through a scheme setup by Collegeville (once again) and there was a settlement in 1990 as a result of a lawsuit brought by Trappe. The 1990 agreement states that CTMA is to be dissolved and there would be only one entity known as Public Works and would be run by elected officials not appointed cronies. This agreement Collegeville did not like but to continue to expand their sewer system they needed Trappe’s approval and they reluctantly agreed to sign it. And for the past 23 years it has been ignored and as such it is doubling our costs running both CTMA and Public Works. The shenanigans by Mr. Schuetz and his cronies (all elected and sworn to Trappe) in doing Collegeville’s dirty work is despicable and certainly not in the best interest of the citizens and ratepayers of Trappe. Like a warring couple in a divorce the only one’s getting rich here are the attorneys but Trappe must protect itself. It is time now (after 23 years) for Trappe to take this matter to court and request that Collegeville abide by the 1990 legal agreement.

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