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Webster Village Board tables sewer consolidation decision

It was determined that more information is still needed

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Webster, NY - For residents who thought the Webster Village Board was ready to make a final decision on June 24 regarding the possible consolidation of its sewer treatment plant with that of the Town of Webster…


...think again.


At its June 24 regular board meeting, the Village Board of Trustees decided to table the following resolution to July:


Resolution to consolidate the Village’s sanitary sewer collection system with the Town of Webster’s sanitary sewer collection system and to consolidate sewage treatment plants at the Town of Webster’s sewage treatment plant all conditioned upon the execution of a satisfactory inter-municipal agreement with the Town of Webster regarding the governance and operation of a consolidated sewer system.


The majority vote determined that they should wait for an update from the village treasurer and results from the Town of Webster Workshop―at which sewer plant updates were discussed―held that same night.


During the public comment portion of the Village meeting, residents continued to re-emphasize their opinions about why or why not the Village should consolidate with the Town.


The two options on the table: consolidate with the Town’s sewer treatment plant to create one system or continue to operate as two separate entities.


Village resident Lawrence Maggio, considering the benefits of consolidation, said the problem is that “we have debts we don’t understand.”

“I don’t want you to gamble our future and our kids’ future,” Maggio said to the Webster Village Board of Trustees.

One of the biggest concerns residents have is cost. How would consolidation affect Village residents?

Up to this point, all those involved in gathering information, looking at what consolidation would look like, and considering all of the pros and cons of consolidation have been unable to provide expected costs.

Village resident Peter Elder understands that it is difficult to calculate consolidation costs and how they will impact the Village and its residents at this point in time.

“That’s not an excuse for not getting a number though,” he told the trustees. “What that is, is maybe an explanation why this is a premature decision. So I ask you to consider the fact that what we’re doing here is making a decision at a time when we shouldn’t be.”

Elder suggested waiting until both plant infrastructures are repaired and updated to reach a point where “you can actually compare them.”

One woman (whose name was muffled and hence indecipherable at the microphone) inquired as to why the meeting agenda for the June 24 meeting did not make it out to residents well in advance of the meeting, as is customary.

Village Mayor Darrell Byerts claimed it was a simple oversight by the Village.

“I want a transparent government,” the woman said. “Village and town. People are getting tired of not knowing what’s going on.”

One resident (whose name was also muffled and hence indecipherable at the microphone) asked the trustees simply why they believe consolidation may be in the best interest of Village taxpayers.

Speaking on behalf of himself (and not the other board members), Deputy Mayor Jerry Ippolito said he believes partnering with the Town is more beneficial than working against them. He pointed out the most recent 35% increase in the Village sewer rate (from $150 to $195).

Ippolito said he doesn’t believe the concern is really about costs. “It’s about this continued argument from the Town and the Village, that [the Town wants] to dissolve the Village, and if we do our homework, that’s not how a village can get dissolved.”

Village Board Trustee Karl Laurer―who also serves on the sewer committee that has been evaluating what consolidation would look like―previously wrote a letter to the editor published in the Webster Herald in which he argues against consolidation.

He writes:

“Our plant is extremely efficient. The NY Rural Water Association (NYRWA) conducted an energy assessment of our STP in November. The assessor told our Chief Plant Operator it was ‘the most energy efficient plant I have ever seen,’ and when asked for recommendations for improvement, he said, ‘You won’t find a cheaper way to operate.’ The assessor noted that it costs our system $0.03 in electrical supply fees to treat 1,000 gallons of wastewater and that the average cost they see is $0.24 per 1,000 gallons.”

Upon publication of Laurer’s letter, the Webster town supervisor suggested that Laurer remove himself from the sewer committee.

You can view the Village of Webster Wastewater District Energy Assessment, November 2020, HERE.

At the Village’s June 10 regular board meeting, the Webster Economic Development Alliance gave a presentation on behalf of the sewer committee regarding its recommendations, should the Village pursue consolidation. The committee consists of Town and Village Board members, Webster residents, government staff, and business owners.

It was clarified that the committee is not recommending the Village proceed one way or the other; it is simply offering recommendations for how the Village would proceed if it were to consolidate with the Town.

Following the presentation, residents’ questions regarding specific costs of consolidation continue to go unanswered, as it was presented that exact numbers could not be determined until the transition to a consolidated sewer treatment plant is well underway, should the Village agree to pursue it.

Discussions about possible consolidation have been ongoing for a few years now. Conceptual discussions began in 2016. In 2019, a joint study was approved. Findings from the study were concluded in August 2020.

The Webster Town Board - particularly the town supervisor - has been advocating for consolidation. The supervisor attended the June 10 meeting to voice his opinion, speaking at the podium for a capacious period of time. He emphasized the ways consolidation would benefit both the Village and the Town from his perspective.

In his most recent supervisor column, Webster Town Supervisor Tom Flaherty writes:

“With the recent $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan from the Federal Government, local governments were slotted funds. The Town will be getting approx. $4.3 million and the Village approx. $600K. Based on the U.S. Treasury guidance to date, it appears these funds can be used for broadband, water, and SEWER. That, along with the potential for a 40% grant on a consolidated-community sewer versus 25% grants on ‘separate’ sewers could drive down the amount needed to be bonded. The lower the debt on this project… the less the annual debt payment will be. The less the debt payments, the less $$ have to be included in annual EDU charges to citizens and businesses.”

The supervisor lays out EDU numbers for both the Village and Town over the years in his column. Click Here to read his full column.

The Village’s decision is ultimately based on debt. Which option would best help the Village pay off its debt? Which option would be best for Village residents in the long run?

You can view both the June 10 and June 24 Village Board Meetings on the Village of Webster Facebook page.

Webster Sewer Committee Recommendations

***Please Note: Webster Online News does NOT endorse pro-consolidation NOR anti-consolidation in this matter. All information in this article derives from ongoing public discussions regarding the future of the Village and Town sewer treatment plants.***


The following information was presented and discussed at the June 10 Webster Village Board Meeting.


The 6 Village of Webster Sewer Considerations

Webster Economic Development Alliance (WEDA) Executive Director Matt Chatfield―who serves as moderator for sewer committee discussions―said the sewer committee’s focus revolves around six topic areas.

Governance and Operations


What are the options for one consolidated system run by two governing entities?


Chatfield says the Village would have a special district within a consolidated sewer system. The Village would be in charge of operating the status quo of its system.


It is recommended that a committee be formed upon transition. The committee would consist of representation from both the Town and the Village to help craft an inter-municipal agreement between both entities.


The sewer committee recommends consolidation take place over a transition period of 3-5 years to ensure efficiency, equitability, etc. During that period, a projected date of the full transition would be established, and the Village would maintain full autonomy of its sewer system in the meantime.


The cost per EDU (Equivalent Dwelling Unit) would be determined during the transition process. Chatfield says they do not currently know what that charge would be.


The name of the newly conjoined entities would be “The Webster Consolidated Sewer System.”


Revenue


Chatfield says a sewer reserve fund would be created for an extended period of time to service the Village’s established special district. The reserve would be funded by Village district users, and would only go towards improvements and investments made within that special district.


Those costs would be controlled and constrained to investments required to maintain that existing system.


The sewer reserve fund would be established by the Village during the transition period. The logistics of the source and amount of funds to be transferred to that reserve fund isn’t entirely clear. However, it was pointed out that the Village’s current financial budget has allotted in its (undistributed) funds approx. $374,000.


Funds in the sewer reserve fund would only go towards offsetting costs to Village users. There would be an agreement on the accretion and withdrawal of funds from the reserve in order to offset and rebate EDU costs.


So if the reserve fund grew to the point where it was unnecessarily large, that money could then be drawn down in a budget cycle or across budget cycles as a rebate to those EDU users. As a result, the operations and maintenance charge for collections in the Village district would be lower than it had been.


Chatfield said there are several different flows, including residential flows, commercial and industrial flows, and septage flows.


For septage revenue, Chatfield says there are ideas on how to share that revenue, but if any septage receiving was undertaken on Village property, those revenues would determine flow directly to the Village as part of the special district itself to help offset those EDU charges.


The overall goal: revenue would go towards this special district and would be set aside for Village users within said district. It would not just consolidate into a townwide fund; it would be specific for Village users.


Collections


A consolidated system itself would actually be responsible for the maintenance of the facility and the collection system.


It is suggested that an “authority” be formed and charged with maintaining the district, and any maintenance above a certain threshold dollar figure is then separately charged back to that special district in which that investment would need to be made.


Infrastructure


If the Village consolidates, who continues to own the land and the buildings?


Chatfield says it is recommended that the Village treatment plant be converted to a headworks-only facility where primary treatment of the influent would take place. But then the final stages of treatment would be transferred to the Town’s facility, which would need to be improved to handle the extra flow. Final treatment would take place through the Town facility.


The land and buildings within the established special district would continue to be owned by the Village.


Debt


What happens to the Village’s debt?


Chatfield says there are a few options for tackling the Village’s debt:


  • Retiring/paying off debt: A portion of the aforementioned reserve fund could be used to retire the debt early. So at the end of the transition period, the Village could “wash its hands” of its debt related to its sewer system (approx. 6 years early).

  • Consolidating the debt: The special district would be established because, in the eyes of NYS, there is a separate entity that could take on such debt. That entity in the Village’s special district could take on this debt; it could also take on additional debt should it need to (should the reserve fund not be sufficient to do so).

  • Maintaining debt: The Village would establish its own additional EDU charge to pay down that debt within the allotted time frame (another approx. 11 years).


Chatfield says the size of the user base within the Village―across which costs would be spread―is currently unknown.


Staffing


Chatfield says individual agreements with Village employees regarding the transition from the Village facility to the Town plant would be established. Ensuring that employees could maintain their compensation and benefit packages would be a priority.


Multiple Village sewer employees have urged the Village Board to vote against consolidation. They believe remaining a separate system is in the best interest of both Village residents and Village sewer employees.


Where does that leave us now? Exactly where we’ve been since 2016: the future of the Village sewer treatment plant floating in a “pending” cloud of uncertainty…


What are your thoughts about the Village’s sewer treatment plant decision? Are you for or against consolidation? Why? Email your thoughts to editor@websteronlinenews.com.

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