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Village, town officials to discuss pipe repairs near Highland Road

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MASSENA - Village and town officials plan to meet toward the middle of next week to discuss alternative methods to fund the replacement of aging water pipes near Highland Road.

In December, the village Board of Trustees considered a resolution to have homeowners in that area fund the costs of the repairs over a 10-year period, totaling more than $5,000 per household.

Following an hour of heated discussion during a public hearing on the proposal, the board voted to table the resolution until its next meeting Jan. 15.

Mayor James F. Hidy has ruled out the possibility of tabling the motion any longer.

“It’s something that has to be done. The plan we proposed is the plan we’re sticking to, unless the town brings another plan we can agree on,” Mr. Hidy said.

Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said he and other officials were considering a closed-door meeting Wednesday to discuss alternative methods to fund the project.

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

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

“There’s the loss of revenue, the risk of (the pipes) icing up, and we’ve had complaints from (one property owner) that there’s water ponding up in his property,” Mr. Fayad said.

Mr. Fayad had set aside $100,000 in his 2012-13 budget to repair the line, a cost which would have fallen to all village ratepayers. But village board members told him after budget workshops earlier this year to come up with other options to pay for it.

Replacing that line and looping it another 2,300 feet to eliminate the dead-end would cost $475,000, or $350 per year per household. The resolution proposed to put both these costs and a $155 maintenance fee on those ratepayers, totalling $505 per year per household for a 10-year period.

That proposal was panned by town officials and ratepayers in that area who attended the meeting. Many feel that because the village has sold water to those ratepayers for more than 50 years, it is obligated to foot the bill.

“We have been paying for any (pipe maintenance) along any street in the village of Massena through our water rates,” said Elizabeth Kaneb, an administrator for the Highland Nursing Home. “If you want to form a water district you’re going to have to figure out how much we’ve paid, then allocate appropriately.”

Mr. Fayad said homeowners near Highland Road were billed a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) on water from the 1960s until 2001, when Alcoa began to utilize those village water pipes. The revenue from those PILOT bills went toward pipe maintenance and lowering water rates for homeowners in both the town and village. Since 2001, the homeowners near Highland Road have been billed a PILOT for sewer pipes, but not for water, Mr. Fayad said.

The water rates homeowners near Highland Road currently pay fund their water usage, not maintenance of the pipes, Mr. Fayad said.

“They have not been paying a maintenance fee since Alcoa took over the pipes in 2001,” he said. “They’ve been paying a water usage fee.”

Mr. Hidy believes it is only fair for the affected ratepayers to foot the bill, because the area is not part of the village’s water district.

“(The cost) is on those ratepayers because it’s not in a water district. We can’t have other ratepayers paying for it,” Mr. Hidy said.

One alternative to the village’s proposal is for the town to annex the area into its water district, which would distribute the maintenance costs over a greater number of people, reducing the tax burden on the individual.

However, Mr. Gray ruled out the possibility of the letting those maintenance costs fall on town ratepayers.

“I think we need to start at square one and get the pipes fixed and not let the burden fall on town residents. I don’t think (that would be) fair,” Mr. Gray said.

Mr. Gray believes the village has an obligation to at least partially fund the maintenance of those pipes.

“The lines out there are, in my view, an extension of the village water system,” he said. “And I think a portion of these costs should come from the village water funds.”

After the repairs are made, the town may explore ways to annex the Highland Road homes into the town’s water district, Mr. Gray said.

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