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Highland Road ratepayer: we paid for maintenance through water rates

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MASSENA - One ratepayer on Highland Road disagrees with village officials who contend that residents in that area have not been paying maintenance fees for more than 10 years.

Elizabeth Kaneb, administrator for the Highland Nursing Home, says that although ratepayers in that area are no longer billed for water maintenance they pay those same costs through water rates that are higher than those billed to households inside the village’s or town’s water districts.

Ms. Kaneb was present at a closed-doors meeting with town and village officials Wednesday to discuss alternatives to fund a project to replace 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 village board will consider an alternative plan at its meeting Tuesday.

Mayor James F. Hidy said Monday he didn’t know what the alternative plan would be and that village officials were still working on the proposal.

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.

Ms. Kaneb says ratepayers near Highland Road are billed at a higher water rate than those in the town’s or village’s water district, for the purpose of funding maintenance along those pipes. Those ratepayers were billed a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) on water from the 1960s until 1997, when Alcoa began to utilize those village water pipes to avoid the high costs of the PILOT, which was based on 25 percent of a ratepayers’ assessed property value. The revenue from those PILOT bills went toward pipe maintenance and lowering water rates for homeowners.

“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.”

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.

Since then, 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 fund their water usage, not maintenance of the pipes, Mr. Fayad said.

Ms. Kaneb compared Wednesday’s meeting to previous discussions on the issue, saying arguments became heated at times and that the different parties had to “agree to disagree.”

No action was taken at the meeting, but the village board is planning to make a motion on an alternative plan at its meeting this evening. “We’re putting pen to paper again, and we’re going to bring an alternative forth at the next meeting,” Mr. Hidy said. “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.”

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