Franklin General Authority concerned about state Senate bill

The Franklin General Authority has expressed concern about a Pennsylvania Senate bill that would require state-regulated asset management plans for water and sewer entities if they are to be eligible for state and federal funding.

Senate Bill 597, introduced in 2021 by GOP state Sen. Patrick Stefano from the 32nd District and passed by the Senate in June, would require managers of many water and wastewater systems in the state to submit a detailed asset management and cybersecurity plan to the state Department of Environmental Protection in order to be eligible for state and federal funding.

The plan would need to include a plan for repairs and replacements of water system infrastructure based on a detailed engineering analysis, as well as a cybersecurity plan developed by a cybersecurity expert.

Tim Dunkle, chairman of the Franklin General Authority, said earlier this month that a number of municipal water authorities are concerned about the bill because of the massive expense it would entail.

“We don’t have a problem with having an asset management plan,” Dunkle said. “But to have to have it approved by DEP in order to be eligible for funding for projects, that there is going to become a huge problem.”

Dunkle said this was because Franklin wouldn’t be able to fund many of its infrastructure projects locally.

“We’d have to raise water and sewer rates 20, 30, 40, 50 percent, maybe,” Dunkle said. “You’re looking at millions of dollars of costs in doing those projects.”

The bill itself would also be expensive, Dunkle said, saying Franklin would need to hire “twice the staff” and estimating a cost of between $500,000 and $1 million to hire an engineering firm to put the asset management plan together.

The cybersecurity plan would be an additional expense, since it “has to be put together by a cybersecurity expert,” he said.

“Small municipalities like us don’t have the customer base to have that kind of money,” Dunkle said. “The only way to do it is to raise rates. We don’t want to raise rates more than we absolutely have to, to ensure getting things done. It will really be a burden on the taxpayer, and that’s our concern.”

Dunkle said the General Authority might still be able to get loans, but not grants, from local banks, which would eventually have to be paid off.

“I don’t want to just be tacking on another 20 years every time we want to do a project,” he said of the time it can take to pay off loans.

At the General Authority’s meeting this month, Dunkle said there had been no House action yet on the bill following a hearing last month in which the for-profit companies testified they were all in favor of the bill and “the municipal authority association and a couple of municipal authorities said ‘Don’t you dare do it, because you’re going to kill us’,” he said.

State senators Scott Hutchinson and Michele Brooks both voted against the bill, which was referred to the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee in June.

“Generally, I think this proposal would mandate some overly burdensome requirements on the water authority systems,” Hutchinson said. “You know, more paperwork, more reporting, more inspections — all these things cost money and time. It’s not cheap.

“No one has really made the case for why we need all that extra regulation piled on,” Hutchinson added.

State Rep. R. Lee James said he will also vote “no” to the bill if it comes before the House for discussion.

He said it looked to him like the bill was sparked by a cyber attack and some kind of water system failure in Florida, but in Pennsylvania, “I think the water and sewer situation is managed very well, at least back in our district in Venango County, and Oil City and Franklin.”

James noted that one of the problems he saw with the bill was the requirement to submit an impact study to the DEP every three years, which would require additional DEP staff and greater expense.

“What I see is that it’s well-meaning,” he said. “But it’s gonna cost taxpayers a great deal of money and would establish an organization that really in my view is not even needed because I believe our municipalities take very good care of our constituents at home.”


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