Arkville Water District residents hear proposal for system upgrade

By Julia Green
Despite letters being sent to all property owners within the Arkville Water District inviting them to attend a special meeting of the Middletown Town Board regarding proposed upgrades to the water system, the turnout at Thursday’s meeting was less than spectacular.
Fewer than 15 property owners attended the meeting, at which representatives from the New York State Department of Health, Lamont Engineers and the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) were on hand to discuss various aspects of the project.
Middletown Supervisor Len Utter emphasized early on that the meeting was not “a sales pitch meeting,” acknowledging that there exist significant problems with the system’s current state, highlighting the existence of only one well supplying the system and two dead lines resulting in poor water quality.
According to Arkville Water Superintendent Terry Johnson, the plan addresses the “necessary, bare-bones improvements” to the system, adding that if the one well were to fail, the district would be facing a “dire emergency.” As proposed, the upgrades to the water system include a new well located on county property behind the train station in Arkville, and relegation of the current well to backup status. Johnson also clarified that all construction will be done on the oldest part of the water system, and not on sections that are only 24 years old.
Matt Currey, the representative from the New York State Department of Health, added that having only one source of water is an issue of great concern to the Department of Health, and that while the well should be pumping between 30,000 and 40,000 gallons of water a day, it is currently pumping 70,000.
While few in attendance argued the need for upgrades to the system, concern was expressed regarding the cost to taxpayers. Grants have been secured for $1.1 million of the total anticipated price tag of $1,979,175, and low-interest loans have been secured for just over $800,000, but property owners still questioned the impact to their own pockets.
Johnson addressed the potential financial impact, offering a worst-case scenario as well a somewhat less dire scenario reflecting the rate of the loan they anticipate obtaining.
The tax rate per $1,000 of taxable assessed value in Arkville right now is $2.29. At the maximum interest rate of 4.5 percent, that would increase to $5.52 per $1,000 of assessed value – a 140 percent increase in the water tax. However, at a more modest 100 percent increase, taxpayers would pay $4.59. In that scenario, the total debt owed would not be covered and the balance would be raised through an increase in user rates – not an entirely difficult concept to swallow, Johnson said, considering rates have not been raised since 1984.
Current rate fees in Arkville are $23 for the first 12,000 gallons of water per quarter and $1.75 per 1,000 gallons thereafter.
With the projected new rates, based on an allowance of 5,000 gallons per quarter, minimum users would pay $30 per 5,000 gallons and $3 per 1,000 gallons thereafter.
A breakdown of the projected cost of the upgrades was also provided at the meeting, and ballparked the price of construction of the district improvements to be $1,294, 250. That price tag includes: construction materials for improvements to the north and south sides of Route 28, the Frank Street loop, and two highway crossings; the purchase of meters and hydrants; wells, well connection lines and utilities to the well house; construction of a control building; an emergency generator; and upgrade controls.
There is also a $121,500 cost associated with legal and financial issues, including easements, bond counsel, interest, fiscal issues and loan and grand administration.
The remaining $563,425 includes engineering costs and additional engineering services, direct expenses, subcontracted expenses, land and right of ways, meter inspection, a clerk of the works position, and 10 percent for contingency.
If approved, the project will be put out for bid next fall.
Questions were raised Thursday night about the possible dangers of locating the well in its proposed location behind the train station, given its location in the flood plain, and the possible dangers of contamination that could result from a serious flood.
A survey of those in attendance found that the split between those for and against the project was about 50/50; a few of those voting against the project said they would not vote for it “as is,” but indicated that some changes to the plan could help convince them.
Utter closed the meeting with his own thoughts, saying that, “Some day or another, a lot of money is going to be put in this system,” but that he is “looking heavily” at the proposed project. He also acknowledged that the grant comes at an inopportune time, given the current state of the national economy.
Johnson added that they are also looking at a contingency plan, should the board vote against the project, and assured those present that a vote against the project didn’t mean that the water system would be left to falter.
“ We’re looking at a contingency plan to try to secure money to make the repairs that are going to be necessary coming up,” he said. “We’re looking at the $600,000 grant and what we could do with that. A no vote doesn’t mean nothing will happen.”
The town board agreed to accept written comments on the project before voting to proceed.