Murray town leaders hear more concerns over water districts

By Kristina Gabalski, Correspondent Posted 11 May 2016 at 12:00 am

MURRAY – Town resident Joe Sidonio continued to ask town board members to come up with a plan for sustainability of the town’s water districts during the board’s regular meeting Tuesday evening.

Sidonio spoke during public comment at the end of the meeting and presented Town Supervisor John Morriss with documents including copies of the petition signed by residents for the establishment of the town’s Water District #10 extension, and the engineer’s report, which Sidonio said states how the water district is to operate – with tax money covering the bond repayment, and operations and maintenance funded by sale of water to users.

“That’s not happening,” he said. “It is unfair to people…. the long term sustainability (of the town’s water districts) is questionable.  It cannot sustain itself on water rates.”

Sidonio also provided a profitability chart which he said shows that even with mark up on water and an over levy, the town is still losing money. His figures show a total operating loss on the sale of water from 2013-2016 of $370,637.

Morriss noted that some of the town’s water districts are “healthier than others,” and pointed to Water District #1 where the possibility of raising the rates will likely need to be considered to cover operating and maintenance costs, he said.

Sidonio told the Orleans Hub that he feels the supervisor is admitting that the town is over taxing residents on the water districts by stating there are significant problems with long term sustainability.

“Over taxing residents on water districts who are not connected is unjust,” Sidonio said. “They are paying for the operations and maintenance for a system they don’t benefit from.”

Morriss said he has been in contact with Rural Development, which provides funding for municipal water districts, and he said officials there said they feel the numbers are not out of line.

“If you guys were out of line, you would not get money,” Morriss said he was told by Rural Development.

Morriss noted Rural Development is continuing its look at Murray water district finances.

“Your points are well-made,” town attorney Jeff Martin told Sidonio and other residents who attended the meeting. “There should be further consideration of concerns you are raising.”

Martin explained there can be a certain amount flux in bond replacement units per district – which sometimes decrease or increase in number over time, depending on factors such as development. He said it can make a significant difference is smaller districts if the loss of one unit occurs.

“If what I’m hearing is correct, we are not charging enough for water,” board member Paul Hendel said.  He suggested checking neighboring municipalities for their water rates.

Morriss said another possibility for increasing revenue might be imposing a rental charge on water meters.

“It’s clearly a long-range issue,” Sidonio told the board. “I would like to see the board address that and be thinking about how to address shortcomings financially.”

In other business, Town Board members heard a continued complaint from a resident regarding parking around the Holley Central School District during special events, which often spills out onto Lynch Road, causing a safety hazard.

The resident questioned liability issues and suggested the town might want to put up no parking signs along the roadway.  Town attorney Jeff Martin said he would bring the issue to the attention of school district officials during the next Board of Education meeting May 17.

Town Clerk Cindy Oliver requested during her report, that the Murray Town Board – possibly in conjunction with the Clarendon Town Board – host a town hall meeting for veterans to make them aware of the many services provided through the Orleans County Veterans Services Agency.

Oliver said the agency director, Earl Schmidt, spoke recently to Orleans County town clerks regarding the services that are available to veterans.

“I was shocked by all they provide,” Oliver said, and noted the town hall meeting would be a way to “get the word out” to local veterans.  “I don’t know if they realize help is available,” she said.

No date has yet been set, but town board members agreed to move ahead with plans.  Council member Paul Hendel enthusiastically supported the idea.  He said he volunteers in the winter driving vans for the agency.

“It’s heart-warming to help those who have given so much,” Hendel said.