Harrisburg water rate hike was a long time coming

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Some have concerns over water rates increasing in Harrisburg, but the capital city, in part, is paying for sins from decades ago.

When agents carried wagon wheels and wild west artifacts from former mayor Stephen Reed’s home, many did not realize that spurs could mean spiked sewer and water rates.

The attorney general office’s initial report upon charging Reed with almost 500 counts of theft and corruption outlined a system where he was accused of diverting sewer funds and Harrisburg Authority administrative fees into a “Special Projects Fund”. Agents concluded Reed spent millions of dollars meant for infrastructure upgrades on artifacts for museums that never came to fruition.

Most of those corruption charges have been dismissed because the statute of limitations has expired.

Shannon Gority Williams, CEO of Capital Region Water, would not make the direct connection to a misuse of funds, but did say infrastructure was neglected over a long period of time.

Century-old pipes are showing their age and have already created catastrophic occurrences, and it may continue.

“We anticipate that we’re going to have significant expenses for the foreseeable future here,” Williams said, “and the way we recover these are through user rates to help prevent catastrophic events in the future”

Capital Region Water bought the water system from Harrisburg in 2010 and has since slowly transitioned the sewer system into its control.

“This means a lot of work wasn’t done,” she said, “and now it’s up to us to make sure that it is done.”

Over the past few years, Capital Region Water has slowly been rooting around to check for cavities. GIS mapping and “sewer bots” have been used to get a baseline of the infrastructure below the surface. Like a life-long smoker that never went to the doctor, the cancer has finally been detected.

“We have found a significant number of voids, number of issues,” Williams said. “here were a handful of maybe about 40 sinkholes.”

While she said people shouldn’t be too concerned, Williams said a contractor was hired to manage and repair some of the more hazardous voids before they become sinkholes.

Capital Region Water said there are many factors going into the rate increases, such as federal requirements attached to bond indentures, capital improvements, and administrative costs. Williams said CRW will apply for grants to help supplement these costs in order to keep rates down as much as possible.

“We’re still kind of in triage mode, kind of reacting to things that happened,” she said. “We’re at the same point trying to get to a point where we can be proactive.”

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