Debate hisses over who should pay Gas Commission bills

Posted: December 13, 2012

THE PHILADELPHIA GAS Commission is considering who should foot the bill for the legal, financial and communications consultants that Mayor Nutter hired to aid the sale of Philadelphia Gas Works.

Until that decision is made, the Philadelphia Gas Commission - the body responsible for overseeing management and operations of PGW - has held off approving $2.7 million to the consultants.

City Councilwoman Marian Tasco, commission chair, said that there has been no delay but that the commission wanted to review the process thoroughly.

"One man's so-called delayed and obscured roadblocks are this woman's due diligence," Tasco said, adding that the commission was acting as "responsible stewards of the ratepayers' money. No more, no less."

The Nutter administration argued that the commission should approve of PGW's paying the expenses.

"We argue that the proposed budget is reasonable under any standard of review," said City Solicitor Shelly Smith. "The exploration of a sale is valuable to PGW and its customers, whether or not a sale is consummated."

Tasco questioned why the city couldn't cough up the funds for consultant fees, which include money for a firm hired to lobby City Council and for outreach efforts to inform the public. Union leaders and public advocates said that it's not a good use of ratepayer dollars.

"The advisers - they serve the [Nutter] administration and it alone. Common sense dictates the city should pay," said Robert Ballenger, public advocate and staff attorney for Community Legal Services.

James Runckel, attorney for PGW's Utility's Worker Union of America Local 686, said, "These costs are premature. We don't even know if it's a viable bid."

The idea of selling PGW has been around for decades. In 2010, the city entered into a $200,000 contract with Lazard Freres & Co., for a study examining the possibility of selling PGW, the nation's largest city-owned gas utility, with more than 514,000 customers. Lazard determined that the city could get up to $1.85 billion.

The commission can make a decision to approve or deny the budget request as early as January.


On Twitter: @Jan_Ransom

Blog: PhillyClout.com

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