Tarentum facing $12K increase in dues as electric association eyes bigger role
Tarentum is one of about three dozen boroughs in Pennsylvania that own and operate their own electric distribution systems.
An association representing them is looking to increase its profile by hiring a full-time executive director and taking on lobbying efforts in Harrisburg.
That will mean an increase in annual dues for the 35 members of the Pennsylvania Municipal Electric Association (PMEA). Tarentum would see its cost increase from $1,000 to $13,000.
The annual cost is based on $5 per electric meter; Tarentum has 2,600 meters.
Tarentum Manager Michael Nestico is suggesting council approve remaining a member of the association and paying the increased dues.
“It would be in the borough’s interests to remain a member,” he told council. “The benefits outweigh the drawbacks.”
The borough will be able to absorb the increased cost, he said.
Not being a member of the association would create bigger issues, Nestico said, as the borough would not have an ally to lobby on its behalf.
No council members expressed opposition at a meeting Tuesday. Council could vote to approve paying the higher dues to remain a member of the association at its meeting Thursday.
David Woglom, the association’s current part-time executive director, said Wednesday he has not heard from any municipalities backing out because of the increased cost. About 20 of the 35 members already have taken formal action to remain, and they expect to know about all by the end of the year as boroughs adopt their 2019 budgets.
“We hope certainly that Tarentum is going to be one,” he said.
Woglom said the association plans to reconstitute itself in January by naming a new seven-member board of directors. The search for an executive director would start in February, and Woglom said they’d hope to have one hired by the end of the first quarter.
Woglom, a former borough manager and now an administrator in the Meyner Center at Lafayette College, said he would not be seeking the job.
“There’s been a growing awareness among many of the 35 members that PMEA needs to evolve and change to meet the needs of its municipal members,” he said. “We need to create a more constant presence in the state capitol among our legislators, representatives and senators, so they understand the value of public power and what public power is.”
Other boroughs in the region that own and operate their own electric distribution system include Ellwood City, Grove City, Pitcairn, Wampum and Zelienople.
Very few municipalities are in the power business, with only 35 boroughs out of the 2,600 municipalities in Pennsylvania and just 2,000 across the U.S., Woglom said.
Woglom said they charge rates that are competitive with investor-owned utilities, and are able to respond to service issues faster.
In many cases, as in Tarentum, money from the electric operation is subsidizing the borough’s general fund, helping keep property taxes down.
Electric bills are paid by everyone, including those exempt from property taxes, Woglom said. That way, “everyone is directly and indirectly paying a fee that goes toward the cost of operating the municipality and providing public services,” he said.
Without that ability, the boroughs would have to increase taxes or cut services to cover the lost revenue, Woglom said.
A recently proposed bill in Harrisburg would have hampered or eliminated the ability to transfer money from electric to general funds, Woglom said. It was ultimately withdrawn.
“We hope to educate our residents and our state legislators on the value of public power,” he said. “It’s a very unique business. It’s a public service we’re providing. We want to educate them on how this service is provided to them, and the value of it. It’s more than just the price you pay — more comes with it.”
Brian Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, email@example.com or via Twitter @BCRittmeyer.
Brian C. Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff reporter. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701 or firstname.lastname@example.org.