Officials worry water plan will sink city

GLOVERSVILLE – Several city officials and members of the Common Council voiced concerns about the plan to develop a “SMART” water and sewer system that could potentially consolidate all water and sewer services in Fulton County.

At the council meeting Tuesday, Fulton County Planning Director James Mraz gave a presentation about the plan.

Many of the officials questioned what benefit the plan would provide to the Glove Cities, which already control their water and sewer infrastructure. Municipalities without water and sewer services are the only parties that would potentially see benefits from the plan, they said.

The county is looking to study and potentially develop what it is calling a “SMART” water and sewer system that would be more efficient and eventually could consolidate all water and sewer services in the county.

There are presently six municipal water systems operating in Fulton County and five municipal sewer systems with each operating independently of one another, Mraz said.

The Board of Supervisors’ Buildings and Grounds-Highway Committee approved sending requests for proposals to engineering and legal firms to evaluate what county Planning Director James Mraz said are four models.

The models may involve creation of a county water and sewer “authority” or “district,” and could eventually entail the purchase of existing water systems or at least the purchase of certain capacity from the systems, officials said.

First Ward Councilwoman Robin Wentworth said she is concerned the larger water and sewer providers, the cities of Johnstown and Gloversville, were never informed this plan was being considered.

She also questioned whether the plan would include taking over the water and sewer systems. Mraz said that decision has to be determined by the professional consultant.

“I wasn’t happy with the way this took place,” Wentworth said. “I think it was a back door deal that cut the cities out of something that belongs to the city taxpayers. Something city taxpayers have paid to develop and maintain for many years and then be completely cut out of this whole process. I don’t see anywhere in [the RFP] where you are going to have meetings with the cities.”

Mraz said the RFP will only identify a model and once the model is identified it then would begin discussion with the various municipalities on what its interest may be in selling service or capacity.

“You own the systems and the only way they can be acquired is through negotiations and agreement,” Mraz said.

Fifth Ward Councilman Jay Zarrelli asked what benefit a consolidation would provide for the city.

“Why would we do that if it doesn’t benefit the city?” Zarrelli asked.

Mraz said Global Foundries is an example of how a business can enter an area and have a regional effect because the cities around the project gain additional jobs and increased money.

Finance Commissioner Bruce Van Genderen also voiced in his concerns about the water proposal.

“The city of Gloversville has no chance of inner-growth within the city [under the models],” Van Genderen said. “The only place you are going to get new sales-tax revenue and property-tax revenue is through annexation. If we got into this thing, what hope do we have that anyone would want to annex into the city?”

Mraz said the city would still have services to provide such as professional fire and police.

However, Van Genderen said no properties are interested in being annexed for just fire and police services.

All of the supervisors representing the city spoke. The majority said they support the proposal to look into a joint water service.

“I would never make a decision that hurts my city,” 3rd Ward Supervisor Michael F. Gendron said. “I want to position my city for 10 years in the future.”

Sixth Ward Supervisor Richard Ottalagano said the city has 8 million gallons of unused water go through its water system and this could turn that unused water into “blue gold.”

However, 4th Ward Supervisor Charles Potter said he was the only supervisor to vote against the proposal because he didn’t feel there was enough communication with the municipalities.

Potter offered to become the source of communication between the city and county throughout the process.

“I’m all for county government and sharing services, but it has to be all services, not picking and choosing,” Mayor Dayton King said.

Proposals will be due June 12. The county is expected to hire a consultant in July.

The consultant’s final report is expected to be submitted to the county in October.