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Sun., Oct. 4
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Village board passes plan for Highland Road pipe maintenance


MASSENA - The village’s Board of Trustees has at last settled on a plan to fund a water improvement project near Highland Road.

At its meeting Tuesday, Trustee Timothy Ahlfeld introduced a motion that would split the costs of a nearly half million dollar water improvement project between village ratepayers and the residents in the Highland Road area. The motion passed by a 3-2 vote, with trustees Francis J. Carvel and Albert C. “Herb” Deshaies voting against it.

“We’ve been trying to come up the best fix for an issue that’s been plaguing the village for years,” Mayor James F. Hidy said. “There’s compromise in this plan, and we feel it’s the best win-win for the village (and the ratepayers near Highland Road).”

Under the plan, village homeowners will be billed $15.50 per year for a five-year period, while the homeowners who utilize that system will be billed $109.13 for the replacement of pipes in that area. In addition, there will be a permanent maintenance fee which will cost village residents $1.64 per month and residents in the Highland Road $11.30 per month.

The plan was the work of Mr. Ahlfeld and Department of Public Works Superintendent Hassan A. Fayad. They 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 within the village limits. At zero percent, the costs fell entirely on those homeowners near Highland Road.

In December, the village board considered this latter option, though over a 10-year period, which would have totaled more than $5,000 per household.

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.

“It is infrastructure outside the village. We do have a responsibility to the people inside the village,” Trustee Patricia K. “Trish” Wilson said. “I think this is an equitable way to (fund the maintenance costs).”

Mr. Ahlfeld noted the five-year payment plan, as opposed to the 10-year plan, will save on the cost of interest.

Mr. Carvel and Mr. Deshaies both expressed a dissatisfaction with the amount the plan charged the homeowners near Highland Roa, in arguing their case against the plan.

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

He stressed he felt the new maintenance fee was unnecessary. “Why are we adding another maintenance fee?” he asked, suggesting the new revenue would simply be dumped into the water fund. “It’s for forever. Everybody already pays a maintenance fee.”

But Mr. Ahlfeld countered the maintenance fee made good sense. “The town expressed concern the 10-inch line i going to fail. We’re hedging our bet,” he suggested.

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. Mr. Fayad has 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 previously proposed resolution would have 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 village board meeting last month when the proposal was discussed and later tabled. 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,” Elizabeth Kaneb, administrator for the Highland Nursing Home, said at that meeting. “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 1998, when Alcoa began to utilize those village water pipes. The revenue from those PILOT bills went toward the village water fund, which included pipe maintenance and lowering water rates for homeowners. Since 1998, the homeowners near Highland Road have been billed a PILOT for sewer pipes, but not for water, Mr. Fayad said.

Ms. Kaneb argued that when the PILOT was discontinued, their water rates increased to cover the costs.

“You can’t say to me the village eliminated our maintenance fees when they increased our water rates,” she said. “They increased our water rates in 1997 to cover the costs of what I would have been paying with the PILOT.”

Mr. Fayad denied that the water rates were raised after the PILOT was discontinued, and the two have often cited different years in which the PILOT was discontinued.

Supervisor Joseph D. Gray was a vocal critic of the previous plan and of any proposal that would have put the maintenance costs on town residents, as Highland Road homeowners have been paying into the town’s water district.

“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 previously.

Mr. Gray called the plan an improvement over the previous proposal, saying he was glad the village was acknowledging a responsiblity to spread those maintenance costs over other users on the system. But he said he would prefer a plan that charges the Highland Road homeowners the same as those within the village.

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