PENN HILLS, Pa. - Imagine your water and sewer bill costing more than your mortgage. It's happening to some homeowners in one Allegheny County municipality.
"I used to pay $140 at the highest, and now it's jumped to $500," said Penn Hills resident Darlene Boyd.
Months after a public meeting to address rising sewage bills in Penn Hills, a lot of residents are still fired up.
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During the past couple months, dozens of residents have reached out to Target 11, providing us with copies of their bills and wanting to know why they're so high.
Residents like Laura Snavely, whose young daughter's cancer is in remission, say they've seen their bills double or triple.
"I want to pay my bills," said Snavely. "I want to be able to take care of my kids, I don't want to live off of everybody else, but when they make it this high, how do you do that?"
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We took their concerns to the Penn Hills manager, Scott Andrejchak, who says the city has been open about sewage bills, even hosting a town hall meeting over the summer. He says the current rates reflect a $64 million upgrade ordered by the federal government 20 years ago after raw sewage was found flowing into the river.
"There was a criminal consent decree enacted against Penn Hills and Penn Hills years ago had to go out and borrow a lot of money on to fix the system," said Andrejchak. "So, part of what pays for the system now is actually paying the service on that."
But from 2011 to 2020, the cost will nearly double from $10.99 per 1,000 gallons to $20.04. All of the yearly increases except for one are directly related to hikes from the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, which treats the majority of Penn Hills' sewage.
According to data obtained by Target 11, Penn Hills only raised rates from 2016 to 2017 by 3.54 cents. But residents also pay a $30 service fee every three months for capital improvements. Andrejchak says it was recently reduced to $25, but residents will see a 67-cent increase from ALCOSAN. Those rates are the same across the county.
"We're not raising the rates. The rates are going up because ALCOSAN rates are going up," said Andrejchak.
Despite the explanations, Boyd and other residents still have a lot of lingering questions about their bills.
"It was 25 years ago or more when they said, 'OK, your water bill is going up because we were accidentally dumping sewage into the river,'" said Boyd. "And here we are 25 to 35 years later, and our bills are still going up."
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