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State money will help sewer upgrades in Watertown

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The town of Watertown will receive a $200,000 boost in its effort to increase the number of homes in the area, which is facing a housing shortage approaching crisis levels.

The funds will go toward sewer upgrades in the town, an important asset that is expected to take some of the capital cost off COR Development Co., Fayetteville, and Morgan Management, Pittsford, as they build nearly 700 units on Route 3 and Route 202, respectively.

“It’s important for the troops and their families, and it’s also important because the vacancy rate is so low in the Watertown area,” said state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, who announced the grant.

The money will come from a pool of legislator-directed Empire State Development Corp. funds. The Development Authority of the North Country, a state agency heavily involved in the effort to build more homes for soldiers and locals alike, will administer the funds. DANC and other local partners have already awarded the two housing projects with $6.74 million in low-interest loans. Jefferson County, the town and Watertown City School District are also discussing property tax breaks with the developers.

“I think it’s a critical point in time ... so that we’re in a position to confirm to the Army and the community in general that the housing projects are coming,” said DANC CEO James W. Wright.

The two projects will increase demand on the town’s sewer system by 85 percent, so officials there are seeking a $2.9 million upgrade. The Jefferson County Industrial Park will also benefit from upgrades.

Only 0.4 percent of rental units in the area are available. That makes it tough for soldiers returning home and others seeking housing in the area, according to the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization. A healthy vacancy rate is about 5 percent. With dwell time for 10th Mountain Division soldiers about to increase, the problem will become even more vexing.

“That’s only going to get even tighter moving forward,” Mr. Wright said.

Mrs. Ritchie called the money a “down payment.”

“If we can’t house our soldiers and their families, that puts us at risk to lose out on investments,” she said.

Times staff writer Nancy Madsen contributed to this report.

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