Monday, October 12, 2009

As Clear As Mud . . .

That is the feeling one gets from reading the public-relations-firm concocted press release of Oneida County's "citizen-based" steering committee's recommendations on how the county should pay for the projected $158 million sewer project needed to comply with the DEC Consent Order.
"According to Steve Devan, Oneida County Commissioner of Water Quality and Water Pollution Control, the recommendations include additions to the 2010 Sewer District budget, as follows:

1. The addition of $630,000 in the operating budget to fund district-wide project costs.

2. A consumption-based fee assessed on sewer district users residing in the nine communities tributary to the Sauquoit Creek Pump Station. The fee is expected to raise $1.2 million to fund a capital project debt service account to begin repairs mandated by the Consent Order.

The Committee has recommended that the $1.2 million amount be raised from a consumption-based charge of $1.05 per thousand gallons of water used, per account. This component affects the Villages of: Clayville, New Hartford, New York Mills, Oriskany, Whitesboro, Yorkville; and the Towns of New Hartford, Paris, and Whitestown. The repairs for those nine communities are expected to total approximately $79.2 million, the preliminary engineering data shows.

A second phase of the project, if needed to further reduce the overflows that go into the Mohawk River from the sewer system, would invest approximately $79 million more in district-wide repairs and improvements to the system. The additional amount would be required if the initial work at the community-specific repairs does not yield enough improvement to fully satisfy the Consent Order’s requirements for overflow reduction. Preliminary engineering estimates have placed the total costs of needed system repairs at $158 million at today’s costs."
This professionally produced press piece tells the truth (presumably) ... but not the whole truth.

It distracts us by first recommending that $630,000 (about 0.4% of the $158M total price tag) be added to the operating budget without telling us who will pay for it or identifying what "district-wide" project costs there will be.

It distracts us again by recommending that $1.2 million (about 0.8% of the $158M total price tag) be raised from a suburban sewer user fee without disclosing How was this figure arrived at or what portion of the debt service it will pay for.

After you've gotten through the above trivialities, it then tells us that $79.2 million (about 50% of the $158M total price tag) will be needed for "community-specific" repairs -- Without telling us who will pay for it. Will this come out of Town taxes and Village taxes, or some other mechanism to be determined by whom? Will Village residents be forced to pick up Both a Town share and a Village share? Who will determine that?

Lastly, it tells us that $79 million (50% of the $158M total price tag) will go for "district-wide" work "if needed" without identifying who would pay for it, what "district-wide" work would be appropriate to remedy a violation that occurred only on the Sauquoit line/overflow, or how likely this work would NOT be needed; or recommending a funding mechanism for it.

Here we have a very artfully done press release that does a great job of hiding the facts.

"District-Wide" is a synonym for "Utica pays." Utica residents, again, will wind up paying for a huge chunk of this suburb-county law violation -- carrying the water (literally!) for the suburbs. When will elected Utica representatives wake up and start looking out for the best interests of their constituents?

And in this case, representatives of the Villages better look out for their residents, too.
The Yorkville Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) was allowed to exist for many years under an exception to the Clean Water Act that recognized it would be financially impossible for older municipalities (here, our Villages) to retrofit their old systems to bring them up to current day standards. That CSO now has to be shut down becaue of County and primarily Town of New Hartford law breaking. The County and Town of NH increased their tax bases by allowing improper sewer connections-- causing the Villages to now have to spend $millions because they lost their right to use a CSO.

The recommendations of the sewer committee are merely a whitewash and continuation of the current administration's favoritism for suburban Towns at the expense of Utica and the Villages.


Anonymous said...

It's interesting how Picente is looking to federal & state govts. to help pick up the tab for the mess created by New Hartford official's incompetence. Yea, I'm sure that the state & federal govt. is going to jump right in & bail us out when officials have for one thing, known about the overflows for years, & secondly, have been ignoring this problem when it was well known was what was going on. No, there will be no bailout. Utica residents will pay for it, because our so called Utica representatives don't have the backbone to demand otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Utica hasn contributed significantly to the election of key elected officials over the years who are not of Utica nor concerned with Utica interests. The Utica voter has sown the political seeds of neglect. There has not been a forceful Utica political defender since Bob Julian.

Strikeslip said...

Generally I agree with the above comment. However ...

I was away from Utica during those years, but was not Bob Julian the man behind the creation of the MVWA in the 1990s?

After creation of the sewer district (when people did not know any better), the creation of the Water Authority was one of the biggest contributers to Utica's demise. "Defender," my foot! Executioner is more like it.

Anonymous said...

Whomever made the sewer mess needs to pay for it. End of Story!

If any of that ends up (after officials in NH and NYM crying they cant afford it) becoming an issue for the whole of Oneida County's taxpayers, tough.

You just watch, some of this will become a burden for those of us who'll never ever have sewers. I just have a feeling.

Anonymous said...

So what about the federal stimulus money? We spent our share on medicaid reductions. Kind of like where all the cigarette money went. These elected leader had plenty of time to have all their ducks in a row when these hand outs were being dealt. They failed as usual nothing suprises me more.

Anonymous said...

I'm not grasping how the regionalization of the water authority caused Utica's demise? It may have been a weak financial arrangement but other than that, the connection is murky. The Utica Water Board had extended service to the suburbs long before the regionalization. As a teenager in the late 1950's, I worked on pipe laying crews in both New Hartford and Whitesboro. Perhaps I am missing something. Please explain.

Strikeslip said...

Off the top of my head ...
Regionalization of the Water System was bad because (1) it cut off the most important revenue stream to the city after taxes, (2) the price Utica received was undervalued (my opinion), and (3) Utica lost control of the water system thereby losing the ability to assure that the water infrastructure in the City would be adequate and losing the ability to somewhat control the suburban development that would draw tax base out of the city.

Right now, all the regional growth is in New Hartford, yet the regional population has remained the same (resulting in too much infrastructure for everyone to support -- particularly in Utica). Economic activity that used to be in Utica has moved out -- made possible by the loss of control over water.

Control over the water system is now vested in unelected persons, resulting in policies that (A) by the recent court order now limits Greater Utica its historical water use about 1970 (primarily City users) and (B) would spread this historic water use over an even greater area than the expanded area it is in now. This would effectively limit any large industrial users from moving back in and limit opportunities for employment.

Anonymous said...

I pretty much agree. But, two points. The New Hartford sprawl commenced and developed way before Bob Julian. The poor negotiation of price was primarily handled by Steve DiMeo who reported to the Mayor at the time. Your depiction of Julian as an, " Executioner" of Utica does not hold water. PS. Utica does not have one site available for a large industrial user.

Trout said...

What about the current users, like hotels, hospitals and the brewery, they might have need for more water. Heaven forbid a Nano center actually wants to come to the area and they need 6 mgd, not Utica but it sure would be great for Utica Let us not forget that the source of water for all of this water is the West Canada Creek of which Utica and the other suburbs aren't even in its watershed. Western Herkimer County is and the very very Eastern borders of Trenton, Remsen and Deerfield.