In a move that many local people have discussed for years, the Elizabethtown Area Water Authority (EAWA) board voted unanimously last night to continue merger negotiations with the Mount Joy Township Authority (MJTA). Full disclosure: I am a member of the EAWA board.
Discussions started informally last week -- but the issue gained momentum Tuesday when Mount Joy Township Manager Casey Kraus met with four members of MJTA. At last night's EAWA meeting, he said there was a "unanimous consensus" from the members to look at regionalization. And he noted that township supervisors "absolutely" agree.
John Buch, a former borough councilman for 24 years and a member of the EAWA board, said: "I think it's long overdue that we have some cooperative arrangement. We should take a step toward some form of consolidation."
Both authorities provide water to residents in the Elizabethtown region. EAWA was formed about six years ago when Elizabethtown Borough and West Donegal Township merged their water system. At the time, Mount Joy Township was part of the discussions, but some officials there didn't agree and shot down the township's participation.
Kraus said last night there's been a shift, particularly since there's been some staff and board turnover at MJTA this year. In January, its manager resigned unexpectedly, and the board's chairman resigned. That left the authority with three "field employees" and Kraus appointed as interim manager. And then one of the field employees recently took a job elsewhere.
The vote last night was only to proceed with negotiations; many details remain unresolved. Among issues that will be finalized are establishing water rates for MJTA customers that come into the EAWA fold and changing EAWA's bylaws to add new board members from the township. Currently, EAWA's board consists of three residents of Elizabethtown Borough and two from West Donegal Township. What the makeup will be when a merger is finalized will be part of the negotiations.
No specific time line has been established, although EAWA board Vice Chairman Keith Murphy said, "I'd like to see this done by the end of the year." Kraus said he thinks "that's doable."
Among the EAWA board, there was a sense of excitement about merging because the issue has been discussed and broached for years. Speaking as one board member, it certainly makes sense. In recent months, elected officials from all the local municipalities have gathered to discuss tackling some issues on a regional basis.
This development with the water authorities, while not expected even a month ago, certainly builds on the idea that township supervisors and Borough Council discussed at a joint meeting earlier this year. In my mind, it would be a setback to those discussions and for Elizabethtown and Mount Joy Township if this merger doesn't happen.