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Massena Village Board votes down proposal for new water rates

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MASSENA - Village officials will continue to explore their options to fund a project to replace aging water pipes near Highland Road.

The village’s Board of Trustees voted 3-2 against a proposal to establish new water rates for village residents and town residents who utilize the system near Highland Road, outside the village, in order to cover the $245,000 cost of the proposed project.

Trustees Francis J. Carvel, Albert C. “Herb” Deshaies and Patricia K. “Trish” Wilson voted against the resolution.

Ms. Wilson, who had previously supported proposals to fund the work through new water rates, said she voted against the resolution because she wanted the village to look at ways it could potentially reduce the project cost by utilizing the village’s Department of Public Works crews and town Highway Department for the project.

“The only thing I had a doubt on was is there a way the total dollar amount of the project could be trimmed?” Ms. Wilson said. “I’m just not sure what the total dollar figure to fix it is. That’s my concern.”

Mr. Carvel, who was previously a foreman for the DPW, said he is against the plan because he also believes the project could be done for much less than $245,000 if DPW did all the work in-house rather than hiring a contractor. He pointed out that town officials have offered the village use of the town’s Highway Department to help reduce costs, and that in-house work utilizes employees they are already paying.

“We’re putting in a few thousand feet of pipe - it’s not a big job. And to take this thing and burden the taxpayers any more than absolutely necessary is not the right way to handle government business,” Mr. Carvel said. “We’re here to use the taxpayers’ money to the best of our ability, and not doing (the work in-house) is a sham. It’s a disgrace to the people.”

The DPW could handle the project, Superintendent Hassan A. Fayad said, but that would delay the department’s work on other projects. He estimated the project would take about a month to complete. The $245,000 estimate is based on the cost of bidding the work to a contractor.

“If we do that work in-house something else will be impacted - we won’t be able to do everything that’s on our place for this year,” Mr. Fayad said.

Ms. Wilson said she was in favor of “99 percent” of the proposal prepared by Trustee Timothy J. Ahlfeld and Mr. Fayad, including the resolution’s controversial plan to charge higher water rates on the town residents who utilize the Highland Road system than on village residents who do not.

“I agree with the split, 85-15. I think that’s fair,” Ms. Wilson said. “I think with the way the pilot was designed, (the pay scale) was well thought out.”

Under the proposed plan, all village homeowners would have been billed $8.05 per year for five years, while the homeowners who use that system would have been billed $56.69 per year for five years for the replacement of the pipes. There also would have been a permanent maintenance fee, which would have cost village residents $3.76 per year and residents in the Highland Road area $26.49 per year.

Mr. Ahlfeld and Mr. Fayad had prepared a zero-to-100 percent chart for the village’s contribution to the repairs. At 100 percent village cost, the homeowners near Highland Road would be charged the same amount as homeowners in the village. At zero percent, the costs fell entirely on those homeowners near Highland Road.

In December, trustees considered a plan that would have put the full costs of replacing and relooping the system, $475,000, on the ratepayers near Highland, totaling $5,000 over 10 years.

Ratepayers along that pipe on Old Orchard and Leslie roads are charged a monthly village water bill, but their homes lie nearly a mile outside the village limits. A half-century-old agreement extended the village water system to that section of the town.

Mr. Carvel and Mr. Deshaies have both expressed dissatisfaction with the amount the plan charged the homeowners near Highland Road.

“The village took over ownership of those lines. The village has responsibility” to fund maintenance, Mr. Carvel said.

Elizabeth Kaneb, administrator of the Highland Nursing Home, urged the board to hold off on the proposal and consider a plan that is “equitable” in the rates it charges to village ratepayers and the town ratepayers who utilize the system.

“The village owns the system, and they shouldn’t come to us now and ask for a maintenance fee,” Ms. Kaneb said. “If they’re gong to charge a new maintenance fee, they have to decrease our water rates.”

Ms. Kaneb claims ratepayers near Highland Road are billed higher water rates than village residents and believes she should only be billed a new maintenance fee if it costs the village more to deliver water to that part of the district.

Ms. Kaneb, who utilizes the pipes near Highland Road at her home, claimed her water rates are $11 higher per month than what village residents have to pay. However, according to Mr. Fayad’s figures, the difference for residential property owners is only 20 cents per 1,000 gallons of water. Residential property owners near Highland Road are billed $3.55 for every 1,000 gallons of water used, while those who live inside the village are billed $3.35 per 1,000 gallons.

Residents near the pipe’s dead end began experiencing rusty water a couple of years ago. The water still was drinkable but looked bad and was problematic for laundry. In the meantime, the DPW has allowed the end of the pipe to leak to prevent the homeowners from receiving rusty water. Mr. Fayad has estimated the pipe could be losing more than 200,000 gallons of water per month.

Mayor James F. Hidy and Mr. Ahlfeld, who voted for the resolution, expressed dissatisfaction that the long-delayed, much-debated project would go back to the drawing board, while water continues to run off the pipe.

“Obviously we can’t have water running out of the line from now until doomsday,” Mr. Hidy said.

Mr. Hidy also expressed concern about the involvement of the New York state Department of Health, whom has told village officials they have to address the water-quality issues near Highland Road. He doesn’t want the village to be in a position where the DOH has to intervene because a plan to fund the maintenance work couldn’t be approved in an adequate amount of time.

However, Mr. Fayad sees the possibility of DOH intervention as unlikely. “They don’t like to flex their muscles. They will work with us to help us take care of the issue,” he said.

Mr. Fayad said he plans to draw up a new proposal that reflects the concerns of trustees who voted against the resolution and residents who criticized it at the public hearing. He couldn’t provide estimates for the work if it were done in-house as opposed to contracted, but said the DPW does not have any budgeted funds for the work.

Any new resolution that includes creating additional water rates will have to be voted on twice by the village board: first to establish a public hearing, and then to decide whether adopt the local law after the hearing has been held.

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