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Village, town officials discuss alternatives to Highland Road water repairs

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MASSENA - Massena town and village officials held discussions Wednesday on alternative methods to fund the replacement of aging water pipes near Highland Road.

In December, the village board 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.

The Massena Town Council invited two village trustees - Timothy Ahlfeld and Albert “Herb” Deshaies, Mayor James F. Hidy, Superintendent of Public Works Hassan A. Fayad and two property owners fro theHighland Road area to a closed-door meeting in an attempt to avoid the previously proposed plan.

No action was taken at the meeting, but Mr. Hidy believes an alternative plan will be prepared for a vote by the village board’s Jan. 15 meeting. “We’re putting pen to paper again, and we’re going to bring an alternative forth at the next meeting. I think what we’ll come up with will be favorable to all involved.”

Mr. Hidy declined to comment on whether the alternative would put those maintenance costs on the village.

However, Supervisor Joseph D. Gray believes it will take much longer for the town, village and ratepayers near Highland Road to agree on an alternative plan that is favorable to all parties involved. “I don’t think it’ll take years (to agree on an alternative), but I don’t think it’ll take weeks either.”

Mr. Gray noted that like previous talks on the issue, discussion grew heated at times during Wednesday’s meeting. “It’s a volatile issue, sure; but sometimes you have to agree to disagree,” he said.

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. 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 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 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 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. 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.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, Mr. Gray said town officials, village officials and ratepayers near Highland Road “kicked around different scenarios” for alternative funding options, most of which require further examination.

“Some (alternatives) we need to bounce off our attorney, some the village wants to discuss with the board (as a whole) and some the town board members want to consider further,” Mr. Gray said.

Previously, town officials and community members have said they’d like to see the village fund the maintenance costs as an alternative to the village’s proposal. Mr. Hidy has vocally opposed this alternative.

“(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.

A second alternative 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. Mr. Gray said this option was discussed at Wednesday’s meeting, but noted there are many ways to go about annexing the property into its water district, some of which town officials are divided on.

Mr. Gray has expressed opposition to the town funding the repairs as the ratepayers near Highland Road have not 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.

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