Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco is advancing an initiative to scrap connection fees now collected from developers hooking into the city’s water system amid an ongoing state probe into waivers granted to several large projects over the past few years.
The City Council is expected to host a public hearing on the connection fees during its meeting at 7 this evening. After the discussion, the council could vote on changes Scirocco is proposing for the local law — chief among them, elimination of the $3,000 fee.
“We’ve been looking at this for a while,” he said during the council’s agenda meeting Monday morning. “Everything else will stay the same, but the fee will go away.”
But Mayor Joanne Yepsen said changing the local law would be wrong while the state Comptroller’s Office continues to investigate hundreds of thousands of dollars in waivers granted to a handful of developers. During a discussion that bordered on heated, she implored Scirocco to pull the matter from his agenda until the results of the comptroller’s probe are returned.
“Until we get the findings back, we don’t know if this is the best direction to take,” she said. “I really think this is ill-timed.”
Scirocco, however, didn’t budge from his insistence that the city move forward in eliminating the fee imposed by local law in 1992. He and Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan said auditors with the Comptroller’s Office told them to move forward with city business.
“They were very clear to me that we should absolutely move forward on city business,” she said. “There seemed to be no indication this would be an issue.”
Scirocco said the fee — $3,000 for the first residential unit and $2,000 per additional unit for most new service connections to the municipal water system — ultimately impacts the cost of developments being constructed. He said developers simply pass on the cost to prospective property owners.
“Let’s eliminate this unnecessary tax we’re pushing down on homeowners,” he said. “I think it’s the prudent thing to do at this time.”
Scirocco said the fee represents a duplication. He said the use of the money accrued by the fee is so restrictive that he hasn’t yet found a way to spend it during his tenure at City Hall.
Scirocco said the fee schedule was put into place at a time when the city was pursuing Saratoga Lake as a drinking water source. Now that the city has a plan to use the Bog Meadow wells as its auxiliary water system, he said the fees are no longer serving the purpose for which they were originally designed.
“This eliminates an unnecessary tax — an unnecessary burden — on any new homeowner that comes into the city,” he said.
Scirocco said the city already charges water users a capital improvement fee, which goes to upgrade infrastructure. He said the connection fee has also posed legal problems for the city — one developer successfully sued the city over it.
Thomas McTygue, Scirocco’s predecessor and commissioner when the fee was adopted, disagreed. He said the fee is a critical tool Scirocco could use to upgrade the water treatment plant, rather than passing that cost onto users already connected to the system.
“There’s so much that needs to be done at the water treatment plant that he could be using those funds,” he said.
McTygue said there’s no reason to eliminate the fee, thereby placing the burden of capital improvements on city ratepayers. He blasted Scirocco for not realizing improvements that could be made using the fund.
“He’s 100 percent wrong,” he said. “The only one he’s taking care of is the contractors.”
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