According to the notice of public hearing at left, the County Legislature is considering an
"increase and improvement of the facilities of the Oneida County Sewer District in said County . . . to fix various problems concerned with the wet weather overflows from the Sauquoit Creek Pumping Station . . ."The "problems" to be fixed were caused when sanitary sewer lines from massive new suburban developments were connected to the County's combined sewer overflow at the pumping station. The suburban officials who approved the developments, and the county officials who approved the connections, either knew or should have known that the connections were illegal -- but they allowed them anyway, making suburban growth possible. Now that they got "caught" and have to fix the problem, because facilities "of the Oneida County Sewer District" are being improved, all customers of the sewer district -- roughly half of whom are Utica residents -- are being forced to pay the cost.
While seemingly "small potatoes" at only a $3 annual cost per family, this is only the most recent example of how residents of Utica are being required to support suburban "growth" while the tax base of their own City shrivels and their taxes soar.
Suburban jurisdictions get Sewer District help in taking care of their wet-weather overflows, but, as indicated in an 11/15/2006 letter from the County Water Pollution Control Commissioner to the DEC, Utica will not be permitted to send its wet-weather overflows to the County treatment plant. As pointed out here five years ago, Utica is being left on its own.
County Legislators from New Hartford (and other places where the illegal hookups were made) might be forgiven for approving this plan because their constituents benefit. Those from Utica, however, need to take notice of this cost-shift and either speak out and vote against it, or demand that as part of the deal the Sewer District provide similar aid to Utica in solving the city's overflow problem (as recommended years ago by the DEC).
Owing to the way the Sewer District was set up, almost half of the County Legislators who will vote on this proposal represent areas that are unaffected. Rather than merely "rubber stamp" what county administrators have proposed, I ask that they take a serious look at the results of such policies: more "growth" in suburban areas (because it is subsidized) and decline in Utica (because that is where the subsidy comes from). More suburban growth is planned, making solution of the problem even more pressing. Increasing the County's urbanized acreage while its population declines means that the average costs of all local services must go up. This helps to explain why Oneida County is one of the most heavily taxed counties in the nation when calculated as a percentage of real property value. Continuing such policies can only lead to more regional decline.
The Mayor and City Officials should not ignore this as a "County" or "Sewer District" issue because the costs of living and doing business within the City, and the City's ability to pay its bills, are directly impacted.
Change the plan so that only the areas receiving the benefits pay for them
12/04/12 Update: There is apparently an impression among some legislators that (1) the County is under a Consent Order to increase the amount of water that the County Facility can take in and treat and (2) that the Towns of New Hartford and Whitestown will bear the costs of the plan.
With regard to No. (1), expansion of the sewage treatment plant capacity is an option that the County has chosen to stop spilling raw sewage into the river and bring itself to compliance with the Consent Order, but it is not the only option. DEC is only interested in stopping the spillage and not a plant expansion. So to imply that the county is under an order to expand the plant is deceiving the public. Now that the big storm water leaks have been plugged, it is probably cheaper to increase the size of the county's treatment plant in Utica to accommodate the remaining suburban storm water in the system rather than remove it. But make no mistake, any plant expansion is strictly to solve the suburban problem because, as noted above, the county has already stated it would not accommodate such flows from Utica.
Which brings us to No. (2): If the costs are going to be borne solely by New Hartford and Whitestown, why does the Legal Notice (above) and the proposed legislation (left on page 2) talk about annual costs to families "in said Sewer District" or "in said District"? And why does the Bond resolution (left at p.6) state that "There shall be annually apportioned and assessed upon the several lots and parcels of land within said District, in the manner provided by law, an amount sufficient to pay the principal and interest on said bonds as the same become due . . . " (bold supplied)? There is nothing to qualify that the responsible parties will be limited to New Hartford and Whitestown. If the County intends for the costs to be born solely by New Hartford and Whitestown, the legislation and legal notice have not been drafted that way. As written now, Utica residents will be made to pay for this.