Public critical of Route 56 water, sewer project in Potsdam

Posted 5/17/24

POTSDAM — Public criticism was leveled yet again against the town’s Route 56 water and sewer district.

A handful of residents who live in the district, along with a former town board …

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Public critical of Route 56 water, sewer project in Potsdam


POTSDAM — Public criticism was leveled yet again against the town’s Route 56 water and sewer district.

A handful of residents who live in the district, along with a former town board member, raised the issue with current town board members and Supervisor Marty Miller at the board’s meeting May 16.

At the top of the meeting Miller again asked for patience from the district residents while he worked on solutions to the concerns that the cost of the districts and financial burden on the residents there was too great.

One of the main criticisms, though, is that the true cost of the project is still unknown until the design work is complete and the town can obtain bids for the actual construction. And, the projected costs keep growing, outstripping initial estimates.

Estimates from last year on the project were projected around $8,109,500 for the sewer project and $6,665,000 for the water district project. And the town has already spent around $1 million on design work from Canton-based firm C2ae. Those fees were paid up front by the town from part of a $2.5 million bond it secured to cover the work, and hopefully be offset by grant money later. The town has secured $7 million in grant money to pay for the project, and is looking for more. But, the grant funding for the project won’t kick in to reimburse expenditures until construction begins.

Due to the ongoing delays in start time and the greater than expected costs, the project will have to go before the district residents for a vote again after bids are secured.

Several property owners who live there however, just want the town to pull the plug now fearing that the project cost will ultimately drain their finances.

Town officials however, advocate for staying the course and going to bid and then a public vote instead. At the meeting Miller said USDA Rural Development, one of the agencies providing a reimbursement grant for the work, recently verified that the town does not have to secure all of the necessary property easements for water and sewer lines before they go to bid, which has been one of the public concerns voiced in recent weeks.

As things stand now, if the town pulls out of the project immediately, as advocated by several residents on Route 56 and former town board member Judy Rich, the residents of the district will be on the hook to pay off the debt incurred from the design work, just over $1 million, without any water or sewer service, and without access to any of the grant money that would have reimbursed the work. And, even if the district residents later vote the districts down, they would still have to pay off the $1 million debt without any grant support.

But several residents are still very much against the projects. At the May 16 meeting, the few district residents who attended, along with Rich, long a critic of the water and sewer district project when she was on the board several years ago, laid out what they saw as issues with the districts.

Supervisor responds

During Miller’s comments, Rich asked if she could ask a question.

“I just became aware walking in here, that there have been talks between you and the village. Are you going to talk about that now? Because I think that would be very useful for people to understand that,” Rich said.

There has been some public comment at past meetings asking why the town doesn’t try to lower its project costs by trying to work out some kind of arrangement with the village to secure water service for the Route 56 district from a nearby village water line, instead of investing in the potentially expensive construction of a water reservoir to supply the district instead. Apparently there has been some discussion on the matter between the two municipalities.

“Judy… I understand that. But I cannot comment on this,” Miller said. “Yes, there’s been a little bit, but, you know, I’m working on it… It’s very early.”

“It just bothers me that we’re forging ahead on the town’s project and there might be light at the end of the tunnel.”

“Well you still have to forge ahead even if there might be light at the end of the tunnel,” Miller said.

“But forging ahead is costing money,” Rich said.

“No, it's not costing us any money right now Judy,” Miller said. “We’re not spending any more money. Right now we’re at where we’re at. We’re waiting. We have to wait for the bid process to happen. The money’s already been borrowed. Whatever wasn’t used is still sitting there in the account. If the projects go under, then that money goes back.”

“But with interest. It's not just sitting there. It's with interest,” Rich said.

“It’s not public comment. It’s not public comment Judy,” said Town Clerk Cindy Goliber.

“As far as what you brought up (talks with the village), I’m not going to put that out there in public. There is work. Like I said, let me do my job. Okay, and I’m working it okay. That’s all I ask,” Miller said.

“Give me the opportunity. Give this board the opportunity to do what needs to be done,” Miller said. “And if at the end of the day it doesn’t work out, I’ve done everything, we’ve done everything that we can do. No stone is going to go unturned.”

“You think, do you really think Judy, that I’m going to sleep good at night knowing these people are going to be stuck with a bill for 30-something years with nothing in the ground? Really?” Miller said.

“Then why didn’t you quit when Roger (Linden, the village’s bond attorney for the projects) said to quit?” Rich said.

“Roger said to quit?” Miller said. Linden last November had urged the town to drop the sewer district project due to higher than expected cost projections.

“End it now. End it now and hand back that money you said was still in the account. Because you do not need to do this at all,” interjected Tom Maroney.

“All right, we are done with this,” Miller said.

“And you know it,” said Maroney.

Public comments

Later during the public comment portion at the end of the meeting, Rich spoke to why she has not supported the Route 56 districts.

“Frank (Cappello, town’s municipal attorney) and Cindy (Goliber, town clerk) can attest to the fact that from day 1 when this project came on I had lots of qualms about it and I asked lots of questions,” Rich said. “One of the questions I asked is why that just the people in Route 56 has to pay this, why not the whole town? I was told that it was state law. Lie number one. It wasn’t state law. I didn’t know that for years.”

“The second thing was, once we started in with the company that was going to do, you know, the plans and stuff (engineering firm C2ae), I said ‘How much is this going to cost?’ And they said, you know the powers that be on the board, they said ‘Forty thousand dollars.’ I said well I can live with that. Of course now we are at one million six.”

Rich said over the years of her time on the board there wasn’t one meeting where she didn’t ask how much is the project going to cost and how much would it cost the people who lived on Route 56.

“And I was constantly given a runaround. Now sometimes when you get a runaround, it's for several reasons, or one. It could be total ignorance. The people answering you don’t know what’s what. Number two it could be graft and corruption. Number three it could be pride. And I think when it comes to this particular board it’s pride.”

Rich said that Miller, and Roger Linden the project bond attorney, both “know this is a bad idea financially for the individuals.” She said it was time for someone to show “leadership,” admit the project was a mistake and apologize for the debt incurred thus far.

“But that’s now what happened, you all forged ahead,” she said. Rich said even if the project happened the way the town wanted it was still going to cost the residents there too much money.

“I’m ashamed to have been a member of the board that pushed this along,” she said.

Kinga Snell, a property owner who lives in the district also spoke and laid out the costs of the project thus far on the design and preliminary legal work for the project, a little over a million dollars. She questioned why the town borrowed a $2.5 million bond to cover that cost in 2021, which accrued an interest of about $59,000.   

Criticism of the project was also leveled by James Snell, who has been outspoken against the districts over the last few board meetings.

Rich and others also were critical of how the first vote in January 2021 during the COVID pandemic on setting up the districts was handled as a special election without the options for absentee voting. That vote was 19 in favor and 10 against, out of nearly 80 possible votes on the issue.

Village Clerk Cindy Goliber stated that the special election was handled properly according to state election law and that to allow absentee ballot voting would have required every resident of the district to come to the town offices and register to vote prior to the special election.

During the discussion, Miller again voiced the need for the town to establish infrastructure to promote future development, saying that businesses and companies want to relocate out of the village centers into the town to avoid the extra village taxes. He said however, that the lack of infrastructure stymies that draw.

The public comment time gradually became more of a conversation interspersed with interruptions and attempted explanations.

Public hearing planned

Earlier in the meeting Miller said that Town Board Members Allyssa Hardiman and David Sanford had put together a fact sheet with answers to many of the questions raised at the last two meetings by district residents regarding the project.

The town will be mailing that out to district residents in coming days.

District residents will also be notified of an upcoming special public hearing regarding the project where they can ask questions and have more input. Miller said the date of the hearing will probably be verified sometime next week.