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Village should replace bridge, even if it means borrowing money

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 25 June 2014 at 12:00 am

Editorial

Photo by Tom Rivers – The Clarendon Street bridge has several structural deficiencies. The Albion Village Board is considering having the bridge removed and blocking off that section of the street, rather than borrowing money to replace the span.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated from an earlier version which stated the nursing home was inside the village. Albion could still receive tax revenue if it worked out a tax-sharing deal with the other local governments.

ALBION – Today is the deadline to send Albion village officials comments about the Clarendon Street bridge. The Village Board thinks it’s best to use state and federal money to tear out the bridge and block off that section of the street.

I think the village should borrow the money and have the bridge replaced. That could be a $700,000 hit to the village taxpayers over 20 years. That could turn into $70,000 a year in more taxes annually with the financing costs.

That’s a hard hit for a village that already has a tax rate that tops $17 per $1,000 of assessed property, one of the highest in western and central New York. The village has been hurt in recent years with a shrinking tax base and stagnant revenues from the state in municipal aid and the county with sales tax revenue. The village’s only choice has been to turn to village taxpayers for more money in order to maintain services.

The village has shed some jobs, and its DPW, police, water and sewer departments still get the job done. But there is a sense of budget doom, that the village can’t push taxes any higher or else it will continue to see a drop in the worth of homes and property.

That is the big factor in why the Village Board doesn’t want to borrow money for the bridge project, committing taxpayers to 20 years of debt payments.

The board sees a blocked-off street as a way to prevent another tax jolt to village property owners. The outside money of about $1.3 million from the state and federal government would pay about 95 percent of the cost for removing the bridge and blocking off the street. The village would be on the hook for about $70,000. It could handle that without getting a loan.

Albion was going to have the 40-year-old bridge removed and replaced with a new one. The bridge has about 1,600 vehicles pass over it each day, including many school buses in the morning and afternoon. (I live in the village and go over this bridge usually at least once a day.)

The village has slowly been working on this project. It was first approved for the state and federal funding 15 years ago. The village has looked at making the spot an at-grade crossing, but was turned down unless it closed off two other at-grade crossings.

It has looked at other alternatives. Finally, after 15 years, Albion was told by the Genesee Transportation Council, which administers the state and federal funding, it needed to move on the project. However, the budget jumped by about $600,000 without more state and federal money, leaving the village to shoulder the entire increase.

The village budget picture feels bleak with the continued decline in overall assessments and rising tax rates. But there is hope on the immediate horizon.

Orleans County has accepted a purchase offer for the county nursing home for $7.8 million. That sale needs a final sign off by the state Department of Health. It could come this year or in 2015. That brings the promise of a significant increase to the local tax base.

The nursing home is just outside the village boundaries, but the village could strike a tax-sharing deal with the town, school district and county, following a similar model in Medina. If Albion can reach a tax-sharing deal like the one in Medina, the village could gain $79,988 in new revenue from the nursing home taxes if the site is assessed at $7 million.

The new Dunkin’ Donuts will boost the village assessment, and the former Chase site, now used for CRFS, will see its tax bill to the village rise 10 percent annually over the next 10 years. The building owner will pay the village about $5,000 in taxes next year and $5,000 more each of the following years until it’s at the full $2.9 million assessment or about $50,000 in taxes annually to the village a year.

That’s all to say the money will be there for the village to make the bridge payment, with plenty left over.

To block off the bridge will cost local motorists in gas, time and inconvenience. At least two businesses, DK Autobody and the Crooked Door Tavern, could see less traffic and customers, possibly resulting in some job losses and reduced sales tax for the state and county.

About 1,600 vehicles cross the bridge daily. A closed bridge will result in a 2/3 mile detour or about 1,000 extra miles daily.

That detour will cost motorists about $73,000 annually in added gas. That’s based on my calculations. If you factor 20 miles per gallon of gas by the 1,000 miles that will mean motorists will buy 50 more gallons of gas a day due to the detour, spending about $200 more a day. Multiply that by 365 days and you have $73,000 in added costs to motorists, not to mention lost time and more congested village side streets.

To have a blocked off street not far from the schools and parks will also be a psychological blow, a sign of a community in decline. The STAMP project in the town of Alabama raises the prospect of new residents in the region. They will want to be in growing and dynamic communities with signs of progress.

Most villages don’t own bridges. They are in the county or state inventory. It doesn’t feel right that the village has to pay for this, but the village has long stepped up and got projects done and provided services for the greater community.

The village takes the lead with the summer parks program, providing water and sewer services for residents, maintains one of the finest cemeteries in the region, and helps run the Strawberry Festival and now a new concert series on Thursdays.

The county and state should take note of village’s leadership in so many areas, and make it a priority to give the village more state municipal aid and more local sales tax revenue.

In the meantime, Albion should push forward with replacing the bridge.