Philadelphia Daily News/Inquirer Editorial: As Pennsylvania municipalities sell water systems to for-profit companies, consumers pay the price | Editorials

It is irresponsible for local governments to peddle these valuable public assets and leave customers at the mercy of businesses that are almost guaranteed to raise their bills.

Years ago, former Governor Ed Rendell offered to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike to a private company. It was a bad idea that thankfully didn’t catch on and fell apart.

Now, an even worse idea is taking hold in cities across the state: selling off public water and sewage systems to for-profit corporations.

It doesn’t take a financial wizard to figure out that this won’t end well for consumers.

But that hasn’t stopped local governments from forging ahead with what can only be described as an irresponsible sale of a valuable public good.

In April, state regulators approved a $235 million sale of York County’s public wastewater system to Pennsylvania American Water.

The deal provided the county with a one-time cash injection, but it leaves residents at the mercy of a for-profit business that is all but guaranteed to drive up customer bills for years to come.

In fact, the deal is designed to buy elected officials time before the public realizes what hit them. American Water cannot raise rates for three years. But after that, rates can increase by almost 50%.

In return, York gets a one-time cash windfall that she plans to use to fill a budget gap, while freeing herself from future maintenance of her water system.

But the short-term gain will mean long-term pain for customers. That hasn’t stopped other local municipalities from making quick money.

Bucks County is pushing to sell its public sewer system to Aqua Pennsylvania for $1.1 billion.

If approved, Bucks County residents will see their bills drop from an average monthly rate of $48 to $88. But unlike York County, where rates were frozen for three years, Bucks County residents can expect price hikes to kick in after a year.

Philadelphia Daily News / Investigator

Melissa C. Keyes