Opposition to the potential sale of the sewer system in Conshohocken gets more organized

Those opposed to the potential sale of Conshohocken’s sewer system have created a Facebook Group to help organize the effort. The group is Conshohocken Opposes Privatization Efforts.

The main point of the opposition is that any sale would result in rate increases that would be greater than a publicly owned system. While Borough Council has stated that a potential sale may be a way to cover the cost of infrastructure repairs and improvements, those is opposition do not support selling an asset to do so.

If Borough Council does decide to sell the system, some members of the opposition group have put forth the possibility of attempting to force a public referendum on the issue. From the Pennsylvania Referendum Handbook (a publication of the state):

A borough may sell all or part of its water system after enacting an ordinance, which does not take effect for ten days. During that period, a protest signed by ten percent of the registered voters of the borough may be filed. That protest stays the sale and forces a referendum on the issue.
After the protest is filed with the borough council, the borough secretary has five days to certify the ordinance and the existence of the protest to the county board of elections. The board of elections must place the question on the ballot at the next primary, general or municipal election occurring at least sixty days from the date of the secretary’s certification.

The referendum must state the nature of the ordinance and provide that a yes vote sustains the ordinance and a no vote rejects it. If approved, the ordinance takes effect immediately; if defeated, it has no effect.

However, that isn’t likely possible. The use of the term “water system” led us to seek out whether that includes a sewer system. We asked Michael Clarke, the solicitor for the Conshohocken Sewer Authority, the question and he shared:

In our review we have not found anything that would confirm that the public referendum provisions of the Borough Code can be used for sale of sewer systems. Having said that, due to the separation in the Borough Code between water and sewer sections, there could be an argument that it applies to sewer systems as well. Historically, boroughs would run the water system but use an authority for sewer. This seems like a throwback to that time. It seems inconsistent that the sale of one utility would require a referendum but another would not. To date this issue has not been challenged in court so it remains an open question.

If a referendum is found to be a valid option, 10% of registered voters would need to sign a petition to require the referendum. In the 2020 general election, Conshohocken had 6,836 registered voters. So about 700 signatures of registered voters would be needed to get the issue placed on the ballot.

MoreThanTheCurve.com last reported, based on a statement from the Conshohocken Sewer Authority, that Borough Council was looking to make a decision by the end of May.