Water talks to get dialogue flowing

JOHNSTOWN – Fulton County government is working on scheduling upcoming informational presentations to municipalities about the county’s SMART Waters initiative.

But county officials say there won’t be any sales pitch to the municipal groups to sell water and sewer services to the county with these initial sessions.

“Our intent is to start with an open dialogue,” county Planning Director James Mraz said today. “We’re not going to get into any details or negotiations.”

Mraz said the county will see if there is “interest” on the part of the municipalities.

Officials will discuss the county’s hope to implement a regional water and wastewater system using existing excess water and sewer capacity. The goal is to expand water and sewer services outside of the Glove Cities, which the county says not only benefits development, but will lower taxes.

Supervisors in 2013 hired Environmental Design Partnership to develop a broad-based, $50,000 report for what the county calls the SMART Waters project. Based on that report, supervisors supported creation of a regional water and wastewater system in the county based on the district’s existing water district. The county will now talk to local municipalities about whether they want to sell their excess water and sewer capacity for the county system.

The Board of Supervisors recently authorized a new $45,000 contract with Environmental Design Partnership to prepare a “SMART Growth Infrastructure Plan.” This plan will identify specific areas of the county where water and wastewater services are desired. It will also identify conceptual plans to provide such services to those areas and estimate costs of providing services to “potential water and wastewater districts.” The new contract also allows a $5,000 “allowance” for Environmental Design Partnership to attend meetings between the county and local municipalities.

County Administrative Officer Jon Stead said Monday the county is “in the process” of setting up a schedule to meet with local government entities. He said the municipalities are also interested in learning about SMART Waters.

“A lot of local groups have kind of reached out and we’ve tried to help,” Stead said.

He said no meetings have actually been scheduled yet and he’s not sure how many there will be. At least one such session was held recently.

“I did meet with the sewer board,” Stead said. “That was more of a general overview.”

According to Gloversville-Johnstown Joint Sewer Board minutes, Stead gave a presentation June 11. Sewer officials said the county proposal “suggests the creation of a regional model for coordinating water and wastewater services in Fulton County to promote economic development, job growth, streamlining and downsizing of county government.” The minutes indicated Stead stated a “county-run entity would be formed to purchase capacity from municipalities, not to take over each individual system.”

Fulton County has six municipal water systems. They are in Gloversville and Johnstown, the villages of Broadalbin, Mayfield and Northville, and in the Sacandaga Park section of Northampton. There are five wastewater operations – for Gloversville, Johnstown, the villages of Broadalbin and Mayfield, and in Sacandaga Park.

Mraz said the current plan is to meet separately with the cities of Gloversville and Johnstown, but depending on interest, the county may meet “collectively” with Glove Cities officials down the line.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.