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Council votes down sewage hike, confirms fire chief selection


Although council agreed not to raise the borough’s sewage fees from $4.32 to $6.00 per thousand gallons, it still had to pass a new ordinance to reflect raises put in place by the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN), which charges a separate fee.


By Jamie Wiggan


-McKees Rocks-


During a special meeting Jan. 27, the McKees Rocks council voted down a proposed sewage rate hike and formally recognized the volunteer fire department’s newly-elected chief who was initially blocked from taking his post.


With those votes, council put to bed two thorny issues that had stirred frustration and anger among residents and volunteer firefighters in recent weeks.


“We are moving forward with this issue from this moment moving on,” said Archie Brinza, council president.


Although council agreed not to raise the borough’s sewage fees from $4.32 to $6.00 per thousand gallons, it still had to pass a new ordinance to reflect raises put in place by the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN), which charges a separate fee.


As a result, McKees Rocks residents will now pay $13.42 in combined sewage fees per 1,000 gallons.


The sewage rate vote followed several statements from members of the public who stressed the additional cost of passing a hike while the coronavirus outbreak continues to hamper the economy.


“Of course I’m not for an increase at this current time,” said resident and Sto-Rox school board president Samantha Levitzki-Wright.


“…There are a lot of people who have had to combine their households during the pandemic due to loss of income.”


Not a resident, rental property owner Lisa Stanko charged that the raises would place the burden on a minority who regularly pay their bills while letting off the hook those who fall behind.


“I feel like if the borough needs additional funds, you should go after those that don’t pay their bills,” she said.

Stanko said she is already footing the costs for many long-term tenants she’s choosing to support during the pandemic and could not comfortably take on additional costs.


“This would be a burden, during a pandemic,” she said.


While council unanimously voted to keep the fees down, several council members noted the borough has long-term cash flow issues in its sewage account that will need to be addressed down the line.


“This is going to be a conversation in the future because we do have major infrastructural issues,” Brinza said.


Manager Ruth Pompey said negative sewage cashflow contributed toward a $470,000 budget deficit during 2020. To help residents acknowledge the problem, Pompey said she would publish additional reports on the borough’s website showing sewage income and expenses.

Public safety

Before publicly recognizing Don Baird as the new chief of the McKees Rocks Volunteer Fire Department, council voted to create a new volunteer position for a public safety director.


Borough Solicitor Megan Turnbull said the position would serve as “a liaison… between the borough… and our various emergency service providers, which include the McKees Rock Volunteer Fire Department, Presston [Volunteer Fire Department] and our EMS providers.”


The position was created in collaboration with the public safety partners and would help strengthen “communication and relationships” between all parties, Turnbull said.


Councilmembers approved the motion unanimously.


Council and the fire department have been at odds since a Dec. 16 board meeting where the volunteers voted to replace their longstanding chief and McKees Rocks resident Nick Radoycis with Donald Baird, a Kennedy resident who formerly served as first lieutenant.


Following the meeting, former council president Paul Krisby told the fire department council would have the final say on appointing a new chief and penned a letter to the Allegheny County Emergency Service Department stating Mike Stepek of the neighboring Presston department would serve as interim chief.


Krisby resigned shortly after citing health concerns.

Moving forward, Brinza, who succeeded Krisby Jan. 14, said council would recognize the volunteers’ election choice and would resume previous operation protocols.


“The McKees Rocks fire department did have an election, they voted a new chief on board. We are accepting that today,” Brinza said.

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