For Pennsylvania municipalities facing a rising tide of costs from implementing storm water management plans, the available funding options vary depending on where you are and what you are – but that could change as soon as later this year. The General Assembly has passed several laws that authorize certain municipalities and municipal authorities to impose “reasonable and uniform” fees to fund storm water management plans – and several additional bills are pending that, if passed, would extend these funding mechanisms to municipal entities across most of Pennsylvania. Continue Reading New Funding Mechanisms for Municipal Stormwater Management
Much like a business corporation, a municipality can only act through its employees. A municipal official may inadvertently (or advertently) make representations regarding municipality business, leading to unintended consequences. Municipalities must keep in mind that their agents and employees, including township supervisors and other officials, can bind municipalities to agreements and subject them to liability for breach of contractual obligations.
The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court decision of Pezzano v. Towamencin Township recently addressed whether a Township can incur contractual liability stemming from the actions of municipal supervisors. In Pezzano, Towamencin Township entered into a confidential separation agreement with an employee, Kevin Pezzano. The terms of the agreement specified that neither Pezzano nor the Township would divulge any information to a third party about the agreement. The Township Board of Supervisors approved the agreement by a vote of 3-2, and the Township’s solicitor signed the agreement. A few days later, the dissenting supervisors, David Mosseo and Harold Wilson, provided statements to a local newspaper. The newspaper published an article which quoted Mosseo and Wilson as saying the Township terminated Pezzano for cause.
In response, Pezzano filed numerous claims against Mosseo and Wilson, individually, as well as a breach of contract claim against the Township. The trial court found that Mosseo and Wilson were entitled to official immunity because they acted within the scope of their authority as township officials and dismissed the claims against them. The trial court likewise dismissed the claim against the Township because, since Mosseo and Wilson were not parties to the agreement with Pezzano, their actions could not constitute a breach on the part of the Township.
On appeal, the Commonwealth Court disagreed and ruled that the Township could be held liable for breach of contract because Supervisors Mosseo and Wilson were agents of the Township. Consequently, even though an agent of a municipality, such as a township supervisor, may not be personally liable for his or her actions, the municipality itself may still be held liable if its agent breaches an obligation of the municipality.
Pezzano leaves us with some important takeaways. When a municipality is bound to a contract, it will be held vicariously liable for actions by its agents, servants, and employees which amount to a breach of its contractual obligations. Individuals authorized to act on behalf of a municipality, such as a supervisor, mayor, council member, or manager, will be considered agents if their actions are within the scope of their authority. Accordingly, municipal officials must act and choose their words carefully. To avoid potential problems, officials should keep abreast of their municipality’s contractual and other legal obligations, and think carefully before making statements regarding the municipality.
Liability arising from the actions of officials is only one example of the issues faced by municipalities and other local government organizations. The Public Sector Group at McNees Wallace & Nurick can assist solicitors and municipal officials in navigating the unique legal issues that face governmental entities of all sizes.
The author extends a special thanks to summer associate Logan Hetherington for assisting in preparing this article.
It has traditionally been a fairly common practice in the municipal bond arena for issuers to either select or have significant input into the selection of underwriter’s counsel in connection with the issuance of municipal bonds. On July 27, 2017, the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB) issued a strong warning to the industry against continuation of these practices by publication of Notice 2017-14. Continue Reading MSRB Issues Warning Guidance On Issuer Involvement In Selection of Underwriter’s Counsel
Back in 2015, Pittsburgh enacted a paid sick leave ordinance, following a trend among cities throughout the country. Pittsburgh’s paid sick leave ordinance required employers with fifteen employees or more to provide up to forty hours of paid sick leave per calendar year. Employers with less than fifteen employees were not spared. The ordinance required that those employers provide up to twenty-four hours per calendar year. The impact: 50,000 workers would receive paid sick leave.
But, what authority did Pittsburgh have to impose such a requirement? Continue Reading A Tale of Two Cities: The Demise of Pittsburgh’s Paid Sick Leave Ordinance and the Durability of Philadelphia’s
On May 18, 2017, House Bill 1405 was introduced into the Pennsylvania General Assembly. The proposed legislation, which would restrict a municipality’s ability to utilize revenue generated by a municipal electric system, would significantly impact 35 municipalities in PA that purchase wholesale power on behalf of residents and distribute the power through municipal-owned electric distribution system. Continue Reading Electric Costs in Ellwood City Spur Proposed Legislation to Restrict Use of Electric Revenue to Fund Municipal Operations
Are municipal pension costs eating your budget alive? Are streets, bridges, water and wastewater systems crying out for capital investment? Are public safety costs pushing your budget to the brink? If so, now may be the time to explore unlocking the value of your municipal assets.
Over the past five years, the Pennsylvania General Assembly has enacted several laws that have changed the landscape of municipal water and wastewater assets. These changes make the sale of water or wastewater assets to a public utility more attractive. These changes may also result in an increased sale price if your municipality decides to sell. Continue Reading Broken Budget? The Fix May be a Sale of Assets
The ability of school districts to raise additional revenue through means other than tax increases just got a bit more difficult. In an eagerly awaited decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has upheld the ability of taxpayers to challenge on constitutional grounds the practice in certain school districts of engaging in selective assessment appeals – that is, appealing the assessments of only certain classes of properties (commercial properties), while not appealing the assessments of other (residential) properties.
McNees’ Paul Morcom, of the State and Local Tax Practice Group, has the details on this important decision, at the McNees PA Tax Blog, Adding Value.
Pennsylvania State Senators John Blake, John DiSanto, and Mike Folmer recently introduced a trio of new municipal debt reform bills that follow on the package of reform bills introduced in the Senate in March. The new bills – Senate Bill 694, Senate Bill 695, and Senate Bill 696 – would expand the power of the Office of Attorney General to prosecute political crimes at the municipal level, increase the statute of limitations for such crimes, and require third class cities to put out for competitive bid all contracts for professional services.
On June 7, 2017, new IRS regulations that change the way state and local governments issue tax-exempt bonds went into effect. The new rules change the way municipal issuers determine the issue price of tax-exempt bonds they issue, and amend existing IRS regulations under section 148 of the Internal Revenue Code. The new rules have produced immediate changes to many common documents used by municipal issuers and their advisors in municipal bond transactions.
Nationally recognized leader in the utility industry, Kathy L. Pape, has joined McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC. Pape will work in McNees’ Financial Services and Public Finance practice groups, with additional emphasis in the Public Sector Group and the Government Relations group. Continue Reading Kathy L. Pape Joins McNees Wallace & Nurick