SMART water plan faces skeptics
JOHNSTOWN – City officials Monday expressed skepticism about Fulton County’s plan for possible consolidation of water and sewer services in the county.
Their sentiments echoed those of Gloversville officials, who expressed concerns late last month about the proposed “SMART” water and sewer system.
At a Johnstown Common Council meeting Monday, county officials asked city officials to give the county’s proposal a chance. Several county administrators and supervisors attended the meeting.
“The hypothesis is a regional system may be more cost-effective,” said Fulton County Planning Director James Mraz.
Johnstown officials, however, questioned whether a county takeover of all water and sewer services is a good idea.
Johnstown Water Board President Nicholas Cannizzo Sr. said the cities of Gloversville and Johnstown, and their water boards, discussed the possibility of establishing a water authority many years ago. He said local officials were told then the governor, in such a scenario, appoints board members.
“You lose all control of your water and sewer rates,” Cannizzo said.
Mraz responded, “If that were the case, that would certainly be something we’d have to take a look at.”
First Ward Councilwoman Cindy Lakata said people live in the city because of the services it offers, such as water and sewer. She wanted to know how the county plan would affect people who already have the services.
“I don’t know if this particular approach has happened elsewhere,” Mraz said.
In recent weeks, Mraz has spoken publicly about the plan to seek engineering proposals to develop a model for what eventually could lead to the consolidation of all water and sewer services in the county. He said county Board of Supervisors committees will discuss proposals next week. County officials say the “SMART Waters” system may be more efficient and allow easier extension of services outside the Glove Cities.
Mraz gave a presentation last month on the proposal to the Gloversville Common Council, which took no action.
Gloversville officials questioned what benefit the plan would provide to the Glove Cities, which control their water and sewer infrastructure.
Municipalities without water and sewer services are the only parties that would potentially see benefits from the plan, some Gloversville officials said.
Johnstown Mayor Sarah Slingerland told Mraz her city requires a copy of the request for proposals the county sent for the SMART model. She questioned whether city residents would be “paying twice” with water and sewer consolidation – as both city and county taxpayers. She said a water authority may be “another layer of government” people may not want.
The mayor said Johnstown is “solvent now,” while Gloversville is at a “fragile point” economically. She questioned the wisdom of Johnstown getting involved in the county plan.
“Something like this could send us back to a very difficult taxing situation,” Slingerland said.
Second Ward Councilman Chris Foss said city residents would be paying twice for equipment and resources needed to consolidate on the county level.
County Administrative Officer Jon Stead said, “This effort is not an effort to see the demise of the cities. We’d all be nuts [to do that].”
Johnstown’s four county legislators were in attendance – 1st Ward Supervisor Richard Handy, 2nd Ward Ward Supervisor Mike Kinowski, 3rd Ward Supervisor Jack Callery and 4th Ward Supervisor William Waldron, county chairman.
Lakata told them she had “faith” in them to “continue to work in the best interest of the cities they represent.”
Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.