May 21, 2008: Clearing the record on controversy

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To The Editor:
In a letter in last week, Achilles Stefanis gave the impression that the MARK Group made promises that were not based in reality and drew conclusions from comments made by Village Trustee Fred Woller, that the MARK Group had acted on behalf of the village without the knowledge of the village. I’m writing to clear up any confusion this letter generated.
Mr. Stefanis quoted our letter correctly. We did tell residents they would be eligible for “some and perhaps all, of the costs of hooking up.” We were able to make that statement because we were administering two separate and distinct lateral connection programs for the village. One program, a grant program to connect low-income homeowners to the system, did indeed, connect 37 different homes to the system at absolutely no cost to the homeowners. The grant even paid the $100 application fee to the village for each of the families eligible for the “free” hook up. People who make less than 80 percent of median family income, and landlords who rent apartment to families earning less than median family income, were eligible for that program. That grant, which came from the New York State Office for Small Cities, was due to expire at the end of December and anyone who had not completed the hookup prior to the December deadline would not have been eligible to get that grant funding. Our records indicated there were actually as many as 80 households in the village that might have been eligible for the grant program.
The second program was a reimbursement program for all other property owners in the village, designed to reimburse them for “all or part of their out of pocket expenses for hooking up.” This reimbursement program, with $400,000 in funding, was built into the sewer project budget process developed by Delaware Engineering. However, at every meeting from the beginning of the process we warned residents that if the project ran into unexpected problems during construction, that those contingencies would eat into the money available for the reimbursement program. This program was assigned the same deadline as the grant program in an effort to expedite payments to those who had installed early and waited long for their reimbursements.
It is impossible when planning and installing a system like this - to be able to envision everything one might encounter in underground digging.
A number of issues arose during the construction phase and some of the reimbursement fund had to be used for other system installation costs and purposes. We did not learn of that until after the project was completed. But the fact remains that 37 properties did get hooked to the system with no out-of-pocket expense and at least 43 additional properties were eligible for that program but chose not to use it. So our statements were 100 percent accurate and not misleading in any way.
As to the allegation that the village did not know what the MARK Group was saying or doing, we must respectfully disagree. The letters sent out to applicants were form letters and packets prepared collaboratively by Delaware Engineering, the MARK Group and the Mayor of Fleischmanns. Every word in the letters Stefanis referenced, was approved by the mayor or deputy mayor before the letters were mailed. To imply that we were working without the knowledge, oversight and approval of the village board is simply wrong.
The MARK Group has a 30-year track record of serving the people and the governments of our towns, villages and hamlets. We are proud of that work in general, and of our assistance to the Village of Fleischmanns in particular. While no program ever works out exactly as we think it might when we start, we look forward to continuing our efforts to help this wonderful village recapture its glory days.

JR Lawrence, President
MARK Group