Tube City Almanac

February 27, 2009

Lower Fee in Works for Street Openings

Category: News || By

City officials will probably modify McKeesport's $1,000 permit fee for digging up a street.

That's the word from Solicitor Jason Elash, who tells the Almanac the city is working on a fee that will still be higher than the old $180 cost, but lower than $1,000.

Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County --- which operates the city's water system --- has balked at paying the $1,000 fee, with its attorney last week calling the cost excessive and out of line with permit fees in surrounding municipalities.

By implementing a $1,000 fee, the city hoped to recoup the price of repaving streets damaged by utility crews; but because fees are supposed to reflect the cost of administering the permits, there's some question whether the higher charge would have withstood a court challenge.

. . .

A new ordinance --- currently being drafted --- will probably be ready for consideration at April's council meeting, Elash says.

That's why the city and Equitable Gas Co. negotiated a settlement over more than 600 holes drilled by its crews, he says.

The gas company's payment of more than $300 per hole will be more in line with the new ordinance being written, Elash says.

. . .

Equitable was particularly upset, Elash says, because many of its more than 600 openings were only a few square inches each. The company has been turning off gas service and capping lines that served abandoned houses now on the city's demolition list, he says.

"They weren't digging up the whole street," Elash says. "They were basically taking a core sample --- they would drill a hole, turn off the gas line, and then replace the same 'plug' they had removed."

. . .

No agreement appears imminent with Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County, according to Elash and City Administrator Dennis Pittman.

The problem isn't just that MAWC won't pay the $1,000 fee, Pittman says.

"They didn't even pay the $180 --- they just ignored us," he says. "If they paid the $180 in protest, it's would be one thing, but if they just blow it off --- well, that's part of our angst."

. . .

Other "angst" is generated because the financially pressed city feels like utility crews are wrecking its carefully plotted street paving budget.

Pittman points to damage done to the intersection of Coursin and Beaver streets, where McKeesport Housing Corp. and other agencies are constructing new homes.

After the city replaced the wheelchair ramps and repaved the street, he says, the water authority dug up the macadam.

"Now it looks like the Ho Chi Minh Trail," Pittman says. "All of the effort we spent to put a crown on the street is lost. It's going to become a sinkhole, then the water won't run off, and it's going to create a pothole."

. . .

Elash says the city would be willing to consider an arrangement that allowed the water authority to perform many street openings at one price. But the authority, he says, countered that it wanted to open a certain number of holes at no cost.

Although the city wants to work with utilities, Elash says, it can't simply waive the fees altogether.

"We haven't gotten the same level of cooperation with the water authority as we got with the gas company," he says. "We're basically at a standstill."

Your Comments are Welcome!

The city is lucky to have Dennis Pittman. He knows more about running a city than a dozen elected officials. We’d be lost without him.

Jason is a qualified young and hungry attorney. We may come from different political “camps” but I respect his work for the city.

The Water Company is on my list of people to fire as a vendor. i think we may be better served getting our water from someone else or reviving our old program. jason would know more about the legality of such actions. perhaps we could get them on breach of contract for not paying the fees they owe.
Paul "Sluggo" Shelly (URL) - March 02, 2009

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