Monday, January 18, 2010

Whitestown Residents Paying for New Hartford's Sewers?

That would seem to be the case based upon this County handout from a Town of New Hartford meeting last week and the per-capita breakdown of sewer repair costs presented here last month.

The handout was made to convince the New Hartford Town Board to sign on to the County's plan. New Hartford is the sole holdout at this point.

What Oneida County is proposing is unusual. It will collect money ($1.05/1,000 gallons of water used) from all sewer users tributary to the Sauquoit Creek pump station, and then use the money to make selective repairs to sewer systems owned by individual suburban municipalities based on what would be of greatest benefit to the County in fulfilling its obligations under the DEC Consent Order. So money collected from, e.g., Whitestown residents could be used to fix sewers owned by the Town of New Hartford.

Whitestown is mentioned here because per-capita its costs ($424) are the least of all the municipalities affected, are clearly less than New Hartford ($1233), yet the Whitestown Town Board has apparently already signed on to this plan. It is unknown what information was presented to the Whitestown board, what, if any, alternatives the board explored for funding repairs to its sewers, and whether the board might have felt pressured by the County and the mention of potential fines of $37,500 per day. All too often members of governing bodies are given partial facts, partial options, told that they must act NOW or the sky will fall, and wind up rubber-stamping a scheme cooked up by "powers that be" that might not be in the best interests of the people that they represent. Here is where a vigilant press is important, but Whitestown, even though it is almost as large as New Hartford in population, gets virtually no coverage. With simply too many governments for one newspaper to cover, Whitestown residents are left in the dark.

To be sure, the handout indicates that the dollar amount to be collected from the Town (in this case New Hartford) will not exceed the principal and interest needed to fix its own sewers plus its share of system improvements. Presumably it is supposed to be the same for Whitestown. But how will this be accomplished? Will Whitestown residents simply stop seeing charges on their water bills when their per capita share of principal and interest has been exceeded? Who will keep track of all this? Does the County have an incentive to do so? In spite of all the information on the County website, there is no model agreement between a municipality and the county specifying how everything will work.

Amazingly, Towns and Villages have apparently authorized the County to place fees on their residents with no written agreements specifying how the County will apply the fees, how the fees will be accounted for, when the fees will stop, etc. The County seems to be saying "Trust us" to do the right thing . . . but with no intermunicipal agreements being voted upon there is nothing for a Town or Village to enforce against the county, to ensure that the county treats residents fairly.

(For a New Hartford perspective check out: "It Just Got a Little More Expensive . . ." on New Hartford Online Blog.)

1/19/10 Update:
New Hartford balks on sewer fee - Other options sought to pay for state-mandated repairs.

New Hartford is exercising "due diligence" by considering other options, rather than being railroaded into accepting the County's solution. Bravo.

1 comment:

Mango Man said...

Is it true that Roger Cleveland is the Chairman of the County Committee which is overseeing this?

Who put him in charge? Anthony Picente, our County Executive? If so, he should be tarred and feathered.