Delco Dems: DELCORA sale is a typical bad, backroom Republican deal

Protestors and city officials gather outside the Deltora building in Chester to protest the Delaware County Regional Water Authority’s deal with Aqua America, Inc. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Protestors and city officials gather outside the Deltora building in Chester to protest the Delaware County Regional Water Authority’s deal with Aqua America, Inc. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Democrats in Delaware County slammed the recently announced deal to sell the Delaware County Regional Water Quality Control Authority, DELCORA, to a private entity.  They called it an example of the corruption in a county Republicans have controlled for decades.

DELCORA’s board of directors unanimously approved a deal this week to merge with Bryn Mawr-based Aqua Pennsylvania Wastewater Inc. for $276.5 million. The proposed deal still needs approval from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

The GOP leaders who are advancing the deal say it’s the key to ensuring infrastructure is upgraded while sewer bills stay steady.

The two elected Democrats to the County Council, along with the Democratic slate hoping to flip the council’s majority, spoke out against the deal Friday outside DELCORA headquarters in Chester. They said its emblematic of how Delaware County operates under Republicans.

Democratic candidate for Delaware County Council Monica Taylor speaks at a protest of the  the Delaware County Regional Water Authority’s deal with Aqua America, Inc. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Delaware County Councilman Brian Zidek said he first learned about the deal’s early stages two months ago when the board mentioned they were in talks with Aqua.

“Those of us who have been around Delaware County politics know full well that from that point on the fix was in,” Zidek said.

He added the deal “stinks” and was done with a Republican donor to protect the jobs of Republican insiders who work for DELCORA.

One of the names mentioned was DELCORA’s Executive Director Robert Willert, a Republican leader in Radnor Township and longtime county party leader.

Zidek’s sentiment was echoed by fellow Democratic Councilman Kevin Madden, as well as council candidates Christine Reuther, Elaine Paul Schaefer and Monica Taylor.

Democratic County Council member, Kevin Madden, speaks at a protest of the Delaware County Regional Water Authority’s deal with Aqua America, Inc. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The group complained that the deal was done with no transparency and no other bids participating.

“We know that another company — a bigger company than Aqua with a better credit rating — put in writing and published an open letter that said ‘We want to bid,’ said Reuther, who referred to a letter from Camden, N.J.-based American Water expressing interest in purchasing DELCORA.

American Water has ties to South Jersey Democratic powerbroker George Norcross.

She added there were two “haphazard” public meetings held on the deal — including one last week — that lacked detail.

“There were specific questions asked about what does this mean for ratepayers, where’s the money going to come from to help ratepayers,” Reuther said. “They couldn’t answer those questions, but we got a price a week later.”

Delaware County Council Chairman John McBlain, a Republican, questioned whether Reuther was at one of the meetings. He said residents were able to talk to representatives from both entities individually and during a Q&A session.  Above that, he adds, DELCORA announced their intentions in July.

“Democrats mistake their ignorance on the substance of the issue with a lack of transparency on DELCORA’s part,” McBlain said.

He accused Democrats of wanting to sell DELCORA to the highest bidder which would lead to rate hikes while Republicans were more concerned about stabilizing rates for customers while upgrading the sewer and wastewater infrastructure.

But Democratic political candidates and office holders weren’t the only ones concerned about the deal. Some residents showed their displeasure, holding signs that read “stop GOP dirty deal,” “DELOCRA deal stinks” and “GOP flushes our tax dollars away,” at the meeting.

Protestors and city officials gather outside the Deltora building in Chester to protest the Delaware County Regional Water Authority’s deal with Aqua America, Inc. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Carol Fanconi of Media is a retiree who lives on a fixed income. She’s not only concerned about what her sewer bill will look like, but what led to DELCORA’s sale to Aqua.

“The fact that it’s being done behind closed doors, we don’t know what the deal is,” she said.

Fanconi said she was active in politics in Montgomery County, Md. and “[knows] how a county council is supposed to run.” She had past concerns about how the council prepared their budget and how recent vacancies on DELCORA’s board were filled.

“We had two very qualified people. Why wouldn’t they put one of those people, at least, on the DELCORA board instead of people who had no experience at all?” Fanconi said.

The three Republican candidates for county council — Jim Raith, Kelly Colvin and Mike Morgan — released a joint statement that praised the deal for putting a stop on $1.2 billion in potential sewer rate hikes.

“The Democrats’ political posturing puts the environment at risk while exposing ratepayers to potential jaw-dropping rate hikes,” they wrote. The slate called the deal “a great outcome” as the result of a law signed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

“Any allegation of corruption or partisanship regarding these two entities following the law as set forth in a bipartisan law is laughable,” they added.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.