By SHIRLEY PULAWSKI
OBSERVER Staff Writer
Fredonia appears to be getting out of the regional water business - at least for now.
Trustee Joe Cerrie
Fredonia trustees have decided not to renew membership in the Chadwick Bay Regional Development Corporation (CBRDC) in its proposed 2012-2013 budget. Officials cited budgetary constraints and the desire to not raise taxes among reasons to not renew membership.
Trustee Joseph Cerrie said the board's goal was to trim the budget until no tax increase would be necessary, and said the $5,600 membership fee couldn't be justified under current financial conditions.
"It's not just the $5,600 per year we're looking at. We also have to come up with money towards any engineering studies. ... We already have a state-of-the-art facility, and we have to upgrade the spillway and the dam whether we're involved or not ... and we have to be concerned about the cost to taxpayers. That $5,600 could pay for a lot of other things ... in a year when we had to make a lot of cuts," Cerrie said.
"We aimed for a zero percent increase. And that's what we did."
The village board had to make many difficult decisions according to Cerrie. "We could blame the state for increasing what we have to pay, but we're choosing instead to make cuts to get down to a zero percent tax increase. It helped (the budget) that we had some retirements and we didn't fill those positions, but we have department heads who are stressed out because they are working without any help," Cerrie said, noting that large and small cuts were made. "We had to make cuts in every department."
A key program the CBRDC is proposing is a unified water district to serve a large portion of the region, including smaller communities such as the towns of Sheridan and Pomfret, in a single district. The district would obtain water from treatment facilities in Fredonia and Dunkirk. Water would be sold at one rate, which at this time, is undetermined.
Cerrie said budget cuts made by the board were comprehensive and based on the most important issues to village taxpayers. "If you can show me where we can save the village some money, then I'm all for it. But if it's year after year of throwing money after money after money and we have nothing to show for it, then it's not something we can do. It's not fiscally feasible right now."
Village Trustee Janel Subjack concurred with Cerrie. "How long do we keep throwing good money after bad?" Subjack asked.
As a long-term investment, Cerrie said he did not feel membership was paying off. "When you look at $5,600 over the ten years we've been a member, plus the $5,000 we contributed to the 2010 study, that's $61,000. Now for every dollar we increase in taxes, it's $80,000 to the village, so in 10 years, we're just $29,000 short of that, and all we've got is a three-year-old study. Our residents care about police, fire and having the roads cleared," Cerrie said. "I sure would like to have an extra $60,000 in the budget now."
CBRDC director Kathy Tampio said she'd like to meet with the board and urge it to reconsider. "I'm very concerned about their membership. I think it's very short-sighted on their part," Tampio said. "Such a district is not only of critical benefit to the region, but also to each individual community, including the Village of Fredonia."
Tampio was asked to attend a Fredonia board meeting by Fredonia Mayor Stephen Keefe at a CBRDC meeting on April 4. In a letter dated April 24 to the village board from Tampio on behalf of the CBRDC, Tampio asked to come speak to the board. No meeting has taken place.
When asked if the village membership withdrawal would negate potential involvement in a regional water district, Tampio said, "No, it doesn't. The customers they serve would still be part of our water district ... so they would be part of the planning process."
Cerrie said, "If they can prove to us in the future that there is a viable reason to get back into it, then we will," but added he is unsure if the CBRDC understands the water issues thoroughly. Cerrie noted an item Tampio addressed in the April 24 letter, "necessary and required upgrades to (the village) water treatment and distribution systems, upgrades such as dredging the reservoir," estimated at $5.85 million, which Cerrie said was studied and deemed unfeasible.
"She might not understand what we've completed. Maybe they're not getting information, but a study was done about dredging the reservoir, and the total increase in usable water would only be 3 or 4 percent. Dredging also means the treatment plant has to use more chemicals to make the water potable. Something like 2,500 truckloads would be required to remove 50,000 cubic yards of sediment from the dam. It was a losing proposition with no payoff and a lot money spent," Cerrie said.
According to Tampio, the CBRDC has a plan in place to use grant money to complete several tasks toward the development of the district. A request for proposals was released on March 14 by the CBRDC to begin the search for a lead agency to handle the multiple facets of implementation.
Nine tasks are outlined in the request: hosting informational sessions to the community; development of legal agreements; complete environmental review, including the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process; geographic information systems (GIS) mapping and inventory of all water lines; a complete treatment and distribution plan; financial analysis and rate plan; potential for future geographic expansion; and the development of an operation plan. Proposals must also include company background information and a detailed fee schedule for each task.
The proposal deadline was set for April 18 which was later extended to May 8. Tampio said the CBRDC would meet to discuss the proposals received on May 10. As of April 26, she said eight firms had received requests.
Tampio said she believes all of the tasks can be implemented for $575,000, a figure outlined in a study funded by the CBRDC published in January of 2010.
Cerrie expressed concerns about the estimated figure. "Seven or eight years ago, we put off replacing a roof for $250,000. Now, we're looking at over $750,000 for it. ... That water district study was published in January 2010, but actually done in 2008-2009. The costs are not going to be the same as they were three, four years ago."
Fredonia Mayor Stephen Keefe said he'd like to continue involvement with the CBRDC, but is concerned about future costs. "I believe in a regional approach. The plans for the water district are important to the region, but they're looking at obtaining matching grants to do these projects. Where's the matching half going to come from? We don't have it in our budget."
Keefe said the decision to not renew wasn't his. "The final budget goes to the trustees. I've got mixed emotions about cutting (the membership fee), but knowing what we've gone through with the budget and what the trustees have had to cut, I know it's been a difficult process," Keefe said, and noted he'd like to continue to support the efforts and attend the CBRDC meetings, even though he would not be a voting member.
"Water is fundamental. If you don't have potable water flowing through all of a region, you don't have growth. If you look at Route 5, you've got sulfur water and different kinds of water supplied all along Route 5 into Silver Creek. Just imagine the kind of business opportunities that could be created if we were to bring that area online."
Dunkirk Mayor A. J. Dolce said he and the Dunkirk Common Council decided to pay the city 2011 dues owed to the CBRDC, but as a new mayor, he wants to proceed cautiously. "We're looking at the opportunity to explore what the group is about going forward and how a water district might benefit the everyone."
Dolce said upgrades being made to the Dunkirk treatment plant will be good for the city whether a regional water district is developed or not. "We're confident our rate payers can be comfortable knowing we're well-positioned with the upgrades we're making to the water treatment facility."
Dolce's comments were similar to those of Cerrie, who said, "We're doing our upgrades on the spillway and dam. We've already opened bids for those, and we have to do this whether or not the district moves forward. If they can show us where we can save the village money, that's what I want to hear. Until then, everyone is strapped right now. Everyone has to make cuts. As a board, we decided that another consistent year of tax increases was too much."
The budget vote will take place Monday at noon in the Fredonia Village Hall.