The Democratic candidates for Delaware County Council oppose the courting of DELCORA and Aqua while their Republican counterparts point to their silence in the Chester Water Authority situation.
Last month, DELCORA entered into a six-week non-binding due diligence period with Aqua Pennsylvania Wastewater to consider a potential merger, due, in part, to the costs of complying with federal mandates that could cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
Chester Water Authority and Aqua America have been locked in a battle for years beginning in 2017 when Aqua America placed a $320 million offer for their system. CWA said no but offered to pay Chester City, which was facing pressure to exit its financially distressed status, $60 million, which would have resulted in a 10 percent rate increase for their customers. Aqua America is one of CWA's customers and took legal action.
DELCORA officials have stated their situation and CWA's are diametrically opposed.
That's not good enough for the Democrats.
"The Republican DELCORA board should immediately end their secret talks with Aqua and begin an open and transparent process that allows input from workers, ratepayers and the public," said council candidate Christine Reuther. "Why, now, are Republicans suddenly trying to sell this valuable public asset? It seems like the only people who benefit from this proposal are a small group of Republican insiders."
DELCORA officials have said the first two weeks of this due diligence has been to gather concerns from authorities, managers and union representatives before presenting this to a larger venue, which they said they plan to do towards the end of the process.
Democrat Monica Taylor said the employees' job security should be one of the top priorities.
"There are many DELCORA workers who understandably fear losing their jobs and who oppose this proposed sale," she said. "We stand with these workers. We will continue speaking out in opposition to this proposal unless and until an open process reveals that this is a win for the workers, ratepayers and county residents."
Another Democrat, Elaine Paul Schaefer, chimed in.
"It's telling," she said, "and not at all surprising, that our Republican opponents who claim to care so much about transparency and accountability, are not silent on this issue. Why haven't they joined our calls for an open process?"
Cody Bright, spokesman for the Republican county council candidates Jim Raith, Mike Morgan and Kelly Colvin, questioned why the Democrats were worried about DELCORA but weren't saying anything about the Chester Water Authority situation.
"It is interesting, but not surprising, that the Democrat candidates for county council are silent on the Chester Water- Aqua deal that bails out debt-ridden Democrat(ic) Chester City government at the expense of the ratepayer customers of Chester Water Authority," he said.
That, Bright said, was the key difference between the two situations.
"We are for an open and transparent process with the ultimate decision to benefit the Delaware County rate-paying customers, taxpayers and protecting our environment," he said. "We are pleased that in the Aqua-DELCORA proposed transaction, the proceeds from the sale would be placed in an escrow account for the benefit of the customers to keep rates low, unlike the proposed Aqua-Chester Water Authority proposal where the proceeds would be used to bail out the Chester City government with no benefit to the customer ratepayer."
Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland fired back.
“It sounds like Mr. Bright is now taking a page out of Mr. Trump's playbook. He has reverted to hurling insults to the city of Chester and its government," Kirkland said. "He says that we are debtridden but he never mentions those who placed us in debt. He has more than likely never set foot in Chester and with that racist attitude I hope and pray that he never does. What he needs to do is keep his insults to himself or come and speak directly to the people of Chester and its elected officials."