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State Officials Want City of Chester Receiver to Stay on the Job

Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Rick Siger asked a judge last week to extend Michael Doweary’s tenure overseeing the city of Chester’s finances. Court documents show the DCED is convinced Chester will remain in a state of fiscal emergency “for at least the next two years.”

Doweary, who was appointed to the job three years ago by former Gov. Tom Wolf, was supposed to exit his position at the end of December.

Chester city officials like outgoing mayor Thaddeus Kirkland and Councilwoman Elizabeth Williams have made no secret of their hostility toward the state-appointed receiver. According to testimony and court findings, Kirkland called Doweary the “N” word, told him to “watch your back” and “your days are numbered.” Williams called Doweary a “slave master.”

Kirkland later apologized for his comments.

City officials have also gone to court to challenge Commonwealth Court Judge Ellen Ceisler’s January order that Doweary needs more control over city finances. DCED’s legal filing to Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court noted the state Supreme Court has yet to make a ruling in that case.

The filing said that a federal bankruptcy judge ruled in March the city was “eligible as a debtor” and for release under Chapter 9 bankruptcy. It included finding that the city met the definition of insolvent under the Bankruptcy Code because it didn’t pay debts when they were due or was “unable to pay its debts as they become due.”

Doweary previously told the DVJournal that Chester faces “a significant fiscal cliff” in 2025 because its “financial situation is critical, and it is running out of time to find a solution.”

The DCED defended Doweary’s time as Chester receiver, praising him for working with Chester elected officials and taking “many positive steps on the road to financial recovery.” That included hiring a chief of staff to run the government and suggesting that a chief financial officer (CFO) be hired in the future.

The state also blasted Chester officials, accusing them of financial mismanagement and lack of audited financial statements. Court documents show Doweary discovered the last audit was done in 2017 and only completed audits for 2018 and 2019 because of “the persistence of the professionals on my team.” Those audits painted the picture of a city in dire financial straits, with Siger claiming that Chester had a general fund revenue loss of around $6.8 million and a balance of negative $27.7 million.

A 2020 audit is ongoing.

Under those conditions, the state saw it as crucial to keep Doweary in power. “[T]he Receiver’s function and duties are still not complete, and the continuation of Receivership and the Receiver’s presence is critical to fully implement the 2023 Modified Plan and to bring the bankruptcy proceedings to a successful conclusion,” wrote DCED attorneys. “Such an extension is necessary if the city is to have any chance of recovering.”

Chester’s pension obligations were also mentioned as a reason for keeping Doweary on the job. An affidavit by Doweary claimed the city owes almost $40 million total to its Fire, Officers and Employees, and Police pension plans.

Most of the money is meant for the Police Pension Plan which, according to Doweary, was severely underfunded just a few years ago. “[The pension plan had] only $1.75 million in assets…when I was appointed in June 2020,” Doweary said in the sworn statement. “The $1.75 million in assets was sufficient to pay a mere three months’ benefits to current retirees. There is now $8.4 million in real assets as of June 2023.

City officials had hesitated to reduce pension outlays despite its massive weight on the budget. Doweary claims he’s been in mediation with the city’s unions, Retiree Committee, other creditors on some kind of solution to the Chapter 9 bankruptcy issues.

But Chester residents may not need to worry about higher taxes. Doweary has said he wants to avoid raising the earned income tax rate above the current 3.75 percent rate. That’s second in Pennsylvania, only to Philadelphia.

Chester’s government has had a major upheaval since its financial woes became public. Councilman Stefan Roots defeated Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland and real estate broker Pat Worrell in May’s Democratic primary for mayor. Roots does not have a Republican opponent in November’s general election.

Kirkland did not return a call for comment on Pennsylvania’s request to keep Doweary as Receiver.

It is not known when the Commonwealth Court will rule on the DCED’s request.

Mayor Candidate Worrell Hopes to Lead Chester to the Future

Patricia Worrell says nobody wants to see the city of Chester lose its charter and dissolved over its fiscal woes. But, she argues, the best way to ensure it doesn’t happen is to elect a mayor with the skills to stop it.

Worrell, 63, is one of three Democrats vying in the May 16 primary for the chance to serve as mayor of the troubled city. Worrell, a longtime member of the city zoning board, and Chester Councilman Stefan Roots, 62, are challenging incumbent Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland, who is 68.

Worrell spoke to DVJournal about her assessment of the city’s current state and where she hopes to take it if she’s sworn in next January.

“On every level, we have major, major issues, the most major issue being our finances,” she tells DVJournal.

Worrell’s background in human resources, business management, and real estate brokerage fields makes her uniquely qualified to head up the government of Chester after years of the city’s decline into potential dissolution.

City receiver Michael Doweary said last month that “everything is on the table” regarding the city’s dire straits. “If a comprehensive solution is not found by the end of the year, there may be no alternative for Chester but disincorporation,” Receiver Chief of Staff Vijay Kapoor said.

Worrell expressed confidence that the situation would not come to that.

“I don’t believe the city will be dissolved,” she said. “I believe that [Doweary] put that out there because that’s the natural next step after bankruptcy if it doesn’t work. But I don’t think the state, county, or even local officials want that to happen.”

“Nobody wants that to happen,” she continued. “I believe that even through their disagreements they will work to ensure that doesn’t happen.”

Worrell said her plans for steering Chester out of its dire financial straits and into more prosperous waters include hiring “qualified staff” to oversee the city’s management. She also said she will use her experience as a real estate broker to help drive a homeownership renaissance.

“I’d like to see homeownership reversed to 60 percent or more homeownership instead of renters,” she said. “That would be one of my first areas of focus.”

She said the city “needs to be a part of the entire community and get involved,” she said. “We need street cleaners and other workers helping to make our community inviting for others to come in and live.”

The candidate said she hopes for a “historic turnout” during the primary this month.

“These local elections are just as important, if not more important, than presidential and state elections,” she said. “I would be happy to see more people get involved in the process.”

Worrell offered qualified praise of Kirkland, though she argued that he is not the person to lead Chester into a more successful chapter of its history.

“He’s been a good asset to the city at the state level,” she said. “But when it comes to the politics, local government means hands-on. You have to have in-depth experience. It’s like running a business. And he does not have the experience of running a business.”

“I just don’t think he realized the particular experiences that it takes to run a local government,” she continued. “At the local level, it’s really hands-on. He just did not have those qualifications.”

Roots did not respond to queries about his own campaign. Kirkland’s press secretary Amanda Johnson told DVJournal the mayor is not currently giving interviews.

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‘My Plea for a Community That I Love’: Embattled Chester Mayor Speaks Out

“We’re the oldest city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” says Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland. But, as he was painfully aware, it is also the only one in danger of being wiped off the map.

Founded in 1682, Chester was where William Penn first disembarked into the province that still bears his name. The city’s courthouse is the oldest public building still standing in the United States. It saw action during the Revolutionary War. It was known as a “Saloon Town” in the early 20th century. Its Sun Shipbuilding was at one time the largest shipyard in the world.

But after decades of financial chaos and mismanagement, Chester now teeters on the edge of insolvency, with the state-appointed receiver suggesting that dissolution may be the inevitable fate of the 350-year-old city.

Kirkland is determined to avoid that outcome.

“For them to even mention disincorporation is simply wrong,” he said.

Kirkland began his tenure as mayor of Chester in 2016. A former state representative for 23 years starting in 1993, he took the city’s reins after it had been financially struggling for years.

Chester first entered state financial oversight under Pennsylvania’s Act 47 in 1995. Kirkland said when he came aboard as mayor, “We worked with [state officials] hand in hand. Everything was fine. We were moving in the right direction.”

“Then COVID hit,” he said. “When it hit, it changed everything for the worse.”

Other officials have disputed the narrative that COVID changed things. Receiver Michael Doweary has noted the city lost nearly $7 million in 2019, which Doweary said was “the seventh annual loss in eight years.”

Kirkland said the city was promised, “serious financial support to help us with our pension problems.”

“At the onset, there was a lot of work that was done together between myself and the receiver,” he said. “But then things started getting a little dicey. During that period, I took offense to some things; he took offense to some things.”

Tensions persisted between city officials and the state’s appointee. Kirkland said the receiver sought to remove the authority of city council members to head up departments, something the council was unwilling to concede.

Still, “we reduced staff at the receiver’s request. We reorganized in various departments.”

Kirkland said during his time as mayor, he had overseen deliberations for selling the Chester Water Authority to the private company Aqua PA. That controversial proposal has been ensnarled in court proceedings for many months.

Both Chester residents and CWA itself have opposed the plan, with residents fearing that Aqua would greatly increase rates once it acquired the water system. CWA, meanwhile, has argued the city council lacks the authority to sell off CWA’s assets.

“We’ve also talked of bringing developers in to develop housing in downtown Chester,” Kirkland said. He added the city “just did some groundbreaking” on “a $55 million expansion of Philadelphia Union’s facility” in the city. “It would draw people from all across the country to that area.”

Kirkland said the city has also worked to address its massive outlay crisis, specifically its pension obligations, which he said were “the biggest headache” on the city’s budget.

“We’ve modified some things so folks don’t walk out of here with these huge pensions anymore,” he said.

The city’s pension struggles have also resulted in downstream personnel decisions.

“Some police officers are retiring or walking away because of the pension situation,” he said. “They don’t feel like the future looks bright. It’s now difficult to retain police officers.”

Kirkland said the receiver’s office has indicated that the city may be disincorporated as early as “the end of the year.”

“I will credit them with saying that’s not what they want to do,” he said. “But if things don’t turn around, that’s what will happen.”

To try and stave off further financial collapse, Kirkland said he and a delegation from Chester planned to travel to Harrisburg this week to petition the Pennsylvania government for relief using the state’s “Rainy Day Fund” of nearly $8 billion.

“I’m going to meet with the governor’s office,” Kirkland said. “My goal is to meet with the members of the appropriations committee, the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, and the Speaker of the House. Hopefully, I’ll have the chance to meet with members of the [Department of Community and Economic Development] to talk to them about the needs of Chester, how they can be helpful, if they can be helpful, to the city of Chester.”

The mayor said that nearly a quarter-century as a state representative has given him relationships in Harrisburg he hopes will see Chester through the crisis.

“I want to be able to talk to the legislators,” he said, “to make my pitch and plea for a community that I love and a community they should not leave behind, cannot leave behind.”

“There’s $8 billion in the state’s Rainy Day Fund,” he added. “Well, it’s storming right now, and we could use that umbrella.”

How Years of Financial Chaos Brought Chester to Edge of Dissolution

“Chester’s financial situation is critical, and it is running out of time to find a solution.”

That grim analysis was given last week by the city’s state-appointed receiver Michael Doweary, who added the alternative to a solution could be dissolution — literally. The City of Chester might be incorporated and cease to exist if its fiscal problems aren’t solved.

“Everything is on the table,” Doweary said.

“Everything on the table” has ironically been Chester’s problem for years. The city has maintained a bloated budget with considerably more expenditures than revenue. It has also struggled to accurately keep track of its finances, with officials often unable to produce correct and timely financial reports.

Like many cities in the northeastern U.S., Chester once enjoyed a boom as a manufacturing and distribution hub. The decline of those industries led to years of a shrinking economy and dwindling tax receipts.

Chester first fell under Pennsylvania’s Act 47, the Municipalities Financial Recovery Act, in 1995. A decade later, its fiscal fortunes had not improved. By 2006, city officials had to take out a major deficit-backed loan to pay employees and keep basic services running.

Frank Catania, an attorney for the city’s Chester Water Authority utility concern, told Delaware Valley Journal that state overseers at the Department of Community and Economic Development handled Chester’s management badly.

“During all of this time, the DCED was involved in overseeing the finances, and they were as useful as spectators at a house fire,” he said, adding bluntly: “The Act 47 consultants did nothing.”

Catania was also involved in arbitrating several disputes between the city and emergency responder labor unions. In multiple rulings in favor of increased pension benefits for represented employees, Catania argued that “the city’s ability to pay” the benefits was highly doubtful.

The previous mayor John Linder “could have appealed the payout” and “gone to court,” Catania argued. “He didn’t, and then it just got worse.”

The city’s financial future looked modestly improved by 2007 with the construction of Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino and Racetrack at the site of the former Sun Shipbuilding and Drydock manufacturing facility.

Yet the city’s spending still continued to exceed its income. An amended recovery plan in 2016 projected a roughly $4.5 million surplus in 2019 if the recovery plan were adopted. But the city receiver noted earlier this month that the city saw “a general fund loss of approximately $6.8 million that year.”

The lion’s share of the city’s massive budget goes toward personnel costs. Of the roughly $56.5 million the city projected for the 2016 fiscal year in its recovery plan, over $40 million went to categories such as “salaries and wages,” “overtime,” and “healthcare.”

Its overtaxed budget and cratering revenues pushed the city to shortchange its financial obligations. Doweary’s report from August 2020 said Chester “[had] not made its full minimal municipal obligation to [its] three pension plans since 2013, leading to a severely underfunded pension situation.”

Further complicating the city’s finances has been a lack of transparent accounting of key city funds.

A 2013 independent audit of the city’s finances left the auditors “unable to obtain sufficient appropriate audit evidence” about “various classifications of certain revenues and expenditures” related to the city’s general and proprietary funds, among other outlay streams.

Similar shortfalls were found in audits conducted for the years 2015 and 2017.

Other instances of financial mismanagement abound. A state auditor general report in 2021 found the city “failed to deposit its state aid allocations into the police pension plan” in a timely fashion. The receiver’s office, meanwhile, identified a “pattern of pushing a portion of each fiscal year’s obligations into the next one,” which “made it difficult to accurately analyze the [City’s] financial performance on an annual basis.”

The receiver, whose office did not respond to several queries for this story, called the city’s underfunded pensions “the largest and most severe” of its financial crises.

By April 2020, when then-Gov. Tom Wolf announced a Declaration of Fiscal Emergency for the city and implemented an Emergency Action Plan; Chester’s police pension fund had “less than six months of beneficiary payments” in its coffers, the report said.

The receiver, in his report, argued the city government has followed “a pattern of … either failing to adopt a realistic budget, failing to follow that budget or both, which results in consistent, large deficits.”

Though the receiver’s predictions for the city have been dire and foreboding for several years—including last week’s claim it is “running out of time to find a solution”—city leaders have argued the situation is not as bad as the state has made it out to be.

“How can anyone be expected to continue to work with a team that even mentions the possibility of dismantling and dividing the city through disincorporation?” Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland said at a recent press conference.

Kirkland said city leaders will be heading to the state capitol to secure more funds for the beleaguered municipality, in particular from the near-$10 billion surplus the state currently holds in its coffers.

“This mayor and council members will be visiting Harrisburg to find out how we get our share of that $8 billion that sits in Harrisburg,” he said.

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Willistown Supervisors Drop Aqua Deal at Friday Night Meeting

The Willistown Board of Supervisors brought an end to deliberations over the sale of the township’s sewer system to Aqua PA at a Friday night meeting. It was the conclusion of a contentious debate over many months to a deal opposed by local residents.

David McMahon, a candidate for municipal council in nearby Norristown who was at the meeting, told DVJournal the supervisors had taken advantage of a kill clause in the Aqua/Willistown contract.

“There’s basically a termination clause in the contract after a certain time period,” McMahon said. “They’ve chosen to go that route. Last night’s meeting was to pass the ordinance to activate that feature of the contract.”

It “remains to be seen” if Aqua will challenge the termination, McMahon said. But “this really should be the end of it,” he added.

After the meeting, McMahon wrote on Facebook that “[Aqua] CEO Chris Franklin and President Mark Lucca left the auditorium empty-handed” following the decision.

“Folks there have been fighting the sale of their sewer system to Aqua Pennsylvania for a couple of years now,” McMahon wrote, adding that “their amazing tenacity paid off tonight.”

Julie Frissora, a Willistown resident who has advocated against the Aqua deal since it became public, told DVJournal the contract was terminated at the earliest possible opportunity.

“On April 14th, all of the provisions in the termination clause materialized,” she said. “That day was the first time the township could exercise their rights under that contract with Aqua to terminate it.”

Township officials could not be reached on Saturday. A spokeswoman for Aqua did not immediately return a request for comment.

Aqua America, owned by Bryn Mawr-based Essential Utilities, has been on a buying spree across the region, purchasing — or attempting to purchase — utilities, including Chester Water Authority and the DELCORA wastewater system. According to a report by the progressive group Food and Water Watch, the four largest Aqua acquisitions resulted in an average rate increase of 280 percent, or 8 percent per year, when adjusted for inflation.

“Water corporations have become increasingly aggressive, and even the best-run water systems like CWA are under attack, which should sound the alarms for communities nationwide,” Mary Grant with Food and Water Watch told The Guardian last year.

Willistown supervisors had earlier posted a schedule of the “special meeting” held at General Wayne Elementary School. The board would consider “a resolution to terminate the asset purchase agreement with Aqua Pennsylvania Wastewater, Inc.”

The resolution in question directed the township manager “to send Notice … that the Agreement is hereby terminated and abandoned without liability or other obligation of either Party.”

The potential sale of the utility to the private water company had twisted and turned its way through Pennsylvania courts and regulatory agencies prior to this week’s termination.

Administrative Law Judge Jeffrey Watson had in April of last year recommended the deal be scuttled due to concerns that Aqua was poised to charge ratepayers higher prices for the system after its acquisition.

In July, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission regulators approved the sale, directing Aqua to freeze rates for two years following the acquisition.

The state Office of Consumer Advocate appealed that decision in August. An OCA attorney argued that the sale “would not provide any net benefit to safety and reliability because Willistown is not a troubled system.”

Many Willistown residents had fiercely opposed the proposed sale before Friday’s vote to scuttle it.

“You have a chance to decide what you want your legacy to be,” one resident told the board on Friday. “I think [the supervisors] have had the township’s best interests in mind. This does not.”

“I’ve talked to many of the people in our community,” another said. “All of them are against this.”

McMahon told DVJournal that at the meeting, “the only two voices in favor of Aqua were [CEO] Franklin and [President] Luca.”

“One of the residents asked people who opposed the sale to stand up,” McMahon said. “It was virtually the entire auditorium.”

Frissora said the township supervisors argued they had “made a good-faith decision back in 2020” when embarking upon the deal, but “in the intervening time period, they heard what the citizens had to say.

“I don’t know what they individually thought,” she said. “But they did listen to their constituents.”

‘We Do Not Want You in Our Community’: Chester Residents Grill Covanta About New Emissions Process

The Covanta trash-to-steam power plant in Chester continues to swirl at the center of a debate over environmentalism and pollution following a contentious conference call with county residents this week.

Officials with the plant spent more than two hours on Tuesday night talking to Chester residents on a Zoom conference. Plant staff spoke on a new $4 million management process they claim will reduce emissions and better protect the surrounding community.

The company plans to install equipment to spray aqueous ammonia inside the plant’s chimneys to reduce Nitrogen Oxide (NOx). The process will cost an additional $1 million per year to operate.

Officials said the ammonia solution used is 19 percent ammonia to water, compared to the household cleaner at 10 percent. It will bind with the NOx so the gas does not reach the atmosphere.

Dom Cammarata, asset manager for the Chester plant, said the facility emits less NOx than similar plants in Plymouth Meeting and Lancaster, which have more up-to-date equipment.

John Scott, director of government relations for Covanta, said Westinghouse built the plant in 1992. Covanta began operating it in 2005. The company has an “environmental justice” policy and works with the county government to reduce emissions and provide various programs for residents and students.

The plans call for a closed tank for the ammonia and a concrete basin surrounding it in case of a leak. The project will begin once the plant has secured Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection permits.

Joe Walsh, an environmental scientist with Covanta, said people may have heard about the danger of ammonia gas, but the liquid is safe.

“We are not going that route,” he said. “We have safely used ammonia mixtures at 85 of our plants for many years. I’d say we are very well versed in the safe management of ammonia mixtures.”

Delivery of the ammonia will add about two more trucks a week, he said.

Many residents and others who asked questions during public comment were skeptical about the plan. The Covanta plant has been a political football in Chester for years, with people claiming it contributes to asthma, cancer, and other health issues experienced by local residents.

Proponents argue Covanta provides funds for the cash-strapped town. Covanta pays Chester $5 million annually and additional fees to the city and Delaware County.

One resident wondered why Covanta did not simply install a newer emissions system on the Chester plant. The answer: The plant is old, and the technology to retrofit it does not exist.

Resident Will Richan asked about ash created by the incinerator that ends up in landfills and whether it leaches contaminants into the groundwater.

“On the ash, you refer to it as toxic ash. Ash is not toxic. It’s not hazardous,” Cammarata said. If it were, the company would not be able to send it to a general landfill, he said.

Zulene Mayfield, chair of Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living, claimed the 18 percent reduction in the NOx emission is a “paltry thing.” She said her group has asked Covanta to lower its emissions for years. She also dismissed the scholarships and other community programs that Covanta provides.

“The whole thing is, we do not want you in our community,” said Mayfield.

Some residents complained about the Zoom format, saying many in Chester lack computers and older people were left out. They called for an in-person meeting.

Leah Kelly, a lawyer with the Environmental Integrity Project in Washington, D.C., said it was wrong to imply that installing the new pollution controls is a “voluntary act.”

Instead, she argued, the EPA has tightened the rules. Nitrogen oxides are a “primary contributor to ozone,” she said. Also, she said the federal EPA standards that Covanta officials say their plant exceeds are outdated.

Eileen Flanagan, with Earth Quaker Action Team, asked the Covanta employees if they would like to live near an incinerator. Cammarata said the plant has about 100 employees. Of those, 20 percent live within five miles of Covanta.

Skip Jones asked if there are differences between emission levels for plants in EPA-designated environmental justice areas and other areas. The Covanta employees could not answer that question but promised to investigate it.

Michael Van Brunt, vice president of environmental permitting and sustainability, said he’d had asthma since childhood. He said research shows NOx could trigger asthma. Other sources of pollution trigger it as well.

The Chester plant serves area municipalities and businesses to provide “landfill-free disposal.” It processes 1.3 million tons of waste yearly, recycles 55 tons of metal, and generates enough electricity to power 48,000 homes.

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Delaware County Celebrates Completion of Seventh Street Bridge in Chester

From a press release

Delaware County Councilwoman Christine Reuther joined PennDOT Assistant Construction Engineer Robert Magee, Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon, Senator John Kane, Chester City Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland, and members of Chester City Council on December 20 to celebrate the completion and re-opening of the Seventh Street Bridge in Chester.

The reconstruction of Delaware County Bridge 186, on West 7th Street in Chester, began in 2018. The original bridge was a two-span steel bridge and was constructed in 1920. At the time, the bridge was weight restricted and couldn’t support heavy vehicles including emergency vehicles, school buses, and delivery trucks.

Construction began on the bridge in September 2018 and the scope of work included:

  • Conversion of the bridge from two span to one span
  • Conversion of the bridge from steel to concrete
  • Installation of a new sidewalk along the bridge
  • Relocation of existing utilities
  • Installation of protective fencing
  • Preservation of the viaduct wall which is a historic feature

“After more than four years of the bridge being closed- we are absolutely thrilled to be standing here this afternoon to officially open it,” said Councilwoman Christine Reuther. The re-opening of the 7th Street Bridge is important for the city and the residents of Chester. The bridge connects the city on bothsides of the Chester Creek and is a key milestone in DelawareCounty’s ongoing efforts to make critical investments in the futureof our County.”

The new bridge ensures that vehicular and SEPTA bus access connects the city on both sides of the Chester Creek and it also serves as an important link to the downtown area by providing a safe walkable option for nearby residents. Heavier vehicles such as emergency vehicles, school buses, and delivery trucks can also now use the bridge.

Councilmember Reuther noted that in Delaware County’s ComprehensivePlan, improving the safety and capacity of our transportation networkis a key goal of the County. Due to the passage of the federal 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the County and the commonwealth can make advancements to offset the growing deferred maintenance backlog.

With the opening of the Seventh Street Bridge, all three County owned bridges that are in the City of Chester are now all in good condition- a critical and necessary infrastructure improvement for Chester residents, Chester City businesses, and for those who commute through Chester.

Of the 43 bridges owned by the County, only 8 bridges remain in poor condition. As of 2023, 4 of those structures will be under construction in early 2023 and the remaining 4 structures will be under a phase of design in 2023. The work is being planned and completed in coordination with the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, PennDOT, and the state and federal delegations to advocate for increased funding to invest in our roads, bridges, and highways.

The $10 million bridge reconstruction began in September 2018 and finished in December 2022. It was a federal Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) project with the federal government paying 80 percent and the state funding 20 percent.

“Through our bridge program, we continue to demonstrate good use of federal and state dollars to improve the safety of the County’s transportation network,” said Reuther.

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Chester Water Authority Scores Win in Federal Bankruptcy Court

The Chester Water Authority (CWA) and Chester County chalked up a win in its ongoing legal battle with the Receiver for the City of Chester.

The bankruptcy court judge handling the bankruptcy case filed by Receiver Michael Doweary on behalf of the City of Chester ruled on Nov. 23 the CWA is not part of another case brought by the receiver pending in Commonwealth Court.

In the ruling by Judge Ashely M. Chan, the receiver agreed the word “authority” in the Commonwealth Court amended recovery plan does not include the CWA.

Chan stayed the CWA’s case that was to be heard by the state Supreme Court on Nov. 30. But motions to permit the high court to hear the case were filed and will be heard mid-December.

“We believe the state Supreme Court should be the one to decide it,” said CWA lawyer Frank Catania. CWA is fighting for survival against the state-appointed Receiver’s attempts to sell it to Aqua PA. And even if he succeeded, Catania said, “it is an undecided — and vigorously disputed — as to what money, if any, the city would get from a sale of CWA.”

The city of Chester has a long history of financial turmoil stretching back 27 years. During that time, it has been under the financial authority of four receivership regimes authorized by the Pennsylvania Municipalities Financial Recovery Act of 1987.

“Since 2017, the City of Chester has attempted to monetize the assets of the CWA, an authority that services more than 200,000 ratepayers, the vast majority of whom reside outside the boundaries of the City, including more than 34,000 ratepayers residing in Chester County where critical infrastructure is also located,” Delaware County argued in a legal filing. CWA supporters believe the Receiver had his eye on the authority and his requests to the courts reveal his intentions.

The receiver had “asked the court for permission to take over and run any authority that the City of Chester created. That’s all it said. It didn’t say, ‘not us [CWA],'” said Catania “So clearly we were concerned. If the judge gave a broad interpretation of the language, that would include us, and the Receiver has no business trying to run a water company, right?”

Opposition to Chester’s attempts to sell the CWA to Aqua PA is bipartisan in the Delaware Valley. In addition to Democratic opponents on the county council, two GOP state reps previously filed an amicus brief last month to oppose the sale.

“Act 73 of 2012 abolished Chester city’s control over the CWA board. It is outrageous to suggest that years later, the city can override the clear intent of the Legislature, take control of CWA, and sell it to the highest bidder. I am grateful that the Supreme Court has agreed to review this matter, and I will continue to fight to prevent any takeover of Chester Water Authority,” said Rep. John Lawrence (R-West Grove).

Lawrence, whose constituents in Chester and Delaware counties are served by CWA filed the brief with House Speaker Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster).

“The CWA board has steadfastly and responsibly served the hundreds of thousands of customers who rely on this municipally provided service,” Cutler said. “The Commonwealth Court’s ruling undermines the board’s rightful position to continue to recognize the best interest of its customers and sets a dangerous precedent for all water consumers in the Commonwealth. We strongly urge the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to take a closer look at this case.”

And the state Supreme Court is where CWA supporters want this case heard, while the Receiver has tried to get the Commonwealth Courts to make the decision.

“Doweary would rather have the issue heard before a single judge in a different case where the Chester Water Authority is not a party. That’s what he was trying to do. Then the next step in his plot—a hostile takeover– was on the day before Veteran’s Day. That’s when the city filed for bankruptcy, with no prior warning.”

“The Receiver has a nasty habit of trying to pull holiday surprises,” Catania added. “So we’re always on a heightened state of readiness around the holidays.”

“He failed, but he’ll try again,” said Catania.

The receiver did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

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New ACCESS Community Center to Open in Chester

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was recently held for ACCESS, a new community center established by the Surgent Family for Society in Chester.

The center’s mission is to provide a safe and respectful environment to gather for learning, recreation, and celebration.

ACCESS’s vision promotes quality of life and meeting the needs of our community by offering programs and activities which support and enrich the lives of children, young adults, seniors, and families in the Chester Community. It offers educational, social, and recreational experiences for all residents regardless of ethnicity, economic status, or gender with a focus on human dignity and empowering the community. It will also create and encourage partnerships with other community and non-profit organizations.

“Sister Cathy and I are so grateful to the Surgent Family for including us in the creation of ACCESS. The many supporters of ACCESS have been working tirelessly to put together wonderful programs and offerings in this beautiful building which will further enrich our community. We look forward to many years with our Chester neighbors,” said Sister Maggie Gannon.

Funding for the new center was also provided by individual donors as well as Widener University and The Burman Family Foundation. Corporate support included PECO, Bohemian Management Corp, P2 Management Company, New Spring Capital, TriState Bank, Capital Solutions, Tague Lumber, and Meridian Bank.

Gannon said the center will open its doors in early November because the contractor needs to complete some work. Along with classes and programs, the center will have a food bank, washers and dryers and showers.

The new ACCESS center is located at 701 Booth Street.

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POWELSON: Sale of CWA Good for Consumers, City of Chester

America is facing serious and growing water infrastructure challenges, meaning communities across the country are having important conversations about how to ensure safe, reliable water. One of those conversations is happening right now in Chester where the city, which owns the Chester Water Authority (CWA), is looking to get out of the water business and put it in the hands of other local experts.

As both a CWA customer and president of the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC), which represents America’s water companies, I am invested in this ongoing conversation about the future of Chester’s water system and am concerned about misinformation concerning the potential sale.

A wide sampling of that misinformation was part of a recent editorial written by local activists.

Chester is looking to sell its system for good reasons. First, Chester faces significant financial challenges and is only the second Pennsylvania town to be placed into receivership. The sale of CWA is a solution that will bring in much-needed revenues while also placing the system in the hands of professionals.

By selling to a professional water company, Chester will gain the operational expertise that is the hallmark of the private water industry, which currently serves over 4.4 million Pennsylvanians. Despite activist attempts to paint a rosy picture about CWA, the reality is the system has been plagued by operational inefficiencies for decades. A water company will be able to address those inefficiencies, offer a strategic investment plan that removes local politics from decisions about infrastructure, and ensures residents have safe and reliable water for generations to come.

Instead of providing a factual assessment of CWA’s situation, the editorial’s writers resort to the very thing they accuse water companies of doing–scaremongering. For many years, activists on the fringes have tried to demonize particular industries by putting “big” before it. Big Oil. Big Pharma. Big Ag.

But this is a new, absurd one. Big Water?

I assume they are referring to the water companies that:

  • Serve 73 million Americans, partnering with local communities to ensure the highest level of water quality and reliability at affordable rates. These very companies have been proven in study after study to provide the highest quality water–higher than that provided by government-run systems. In fact, EPA data show systems run by Pennsylvania water companies are 34.7 percent less likely to have Safe Drinking Water Act violations compared to government-run systems.
  • Invest billions of dollars annually into community water systems so that when you turn on your tap, you know your water is safe to give to your family.
  • Provide affordability programs to assist those who may struggle to pay their water bills, unlike the government-run systems.
  • That employs tens of thousands of local residents who live in the communities they serve every day–people who are a part of the fabric of the community’s life and you see at the gym or the grocery store or on the sidelines at youth sporting events.

Putting aside the writers’ obvious red herring, it is incredible how many basic facts about water system operations their editorial got wrong.

For example, their claims about how water companies generate profit are laughably inaccurate and expose just how little they actually know about water utilities. They claim water companies want inflated prices for water systems because higher purchase prices result in bigger profits.

That isn’t at all how it works.

The price a water company pays for a system has absolutely nothing to do with how much of a return it can earn. A water company can only earn a return on the dollars they invest in necessary infrastructure repairs and upgrades on systems it already owns.

The writers are right about one thing – water companies are “regulated utilities.” Unlike government-run systems, water companies have strict oversight from independent state regulators. In Pennsylvania, that’s the Public Utility Commission (PUC).

I had the pleasure of serving as PUC chair and know how these protections benefit customers. The PUC provides rate regulation–meaning those expert regulators systematically review company expenditures and assess system needs as part of a transparent, months-long rate-setting process. That’s right: decision-making on customer rates rests in the hands of expert independent regulators, not water companies or local politicians who want to be re-elected.

City leaders and residents should not be misguided by those who are only interested in blocking proven water company solutions, not fostering a productive discussion about what is best for Chester’s residents. The expertise, strategic investment, and singular focus on water system operations that comes from working with a water company will ensure that current CWA customers like my neighbors and my family have safe drinking water and reliable service.

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