Fulton County

Gloversville council accepts deal to sell water

The Gloversville Common Council on Tuesday night approved a deal to sell excess water and sewer capa

The Gloversville Common Council on Tuesday night approved a deal to sell excess water and sewer capacity to the county after months of closed-door negotiations.

Council members voted 4-3 to approve a memorandum of agreement between the council, the City of Gloversville Board of Water Commissioners and Fulton County to provide capacity for the county’s SMART Waters program, which aims to build water and sewer infrastructure to spur development in underserved parts of the county. Under the agreement, the city will provide an average of 2 million gallons of water a day to the county for the next 40 years at the same rate paid by city residents.

The county, in turn, will pay the city 15 percent of revenue generated by the 1 percentage point county sales tax hike imposed in 2005 and renewed every two years by the state Legislature.

“Every year except for one for the last several decades, this number has increased,” Gloversville Mayor Dayton King wrote in a Facebook post Monday in which he announced, for the first time, details of the plan to be voted on the following night.

That 15 percent would mean $536,190 in 2015, building to a projected $1.3 million in 2034, for a 20-year total of $17.7 million, according to a chart accompanying the agreement.

Council members who voted against the agreement, as well as some members of the public who spoke out, fear the city is too easily selling one of its most valuable assets.

“We have the water, they don’t,” Third Ward Councilman Stephen Mahoney said Wednesday. “They want it, we sell it and that’s it. There’s no negotiation. We don’t have to sell it to them. They want to buy, we sell. Supply and demand.”

Second Ward Councilman Arthur Simonds, who also voted against the agreement, echoed the concerns of others that providing water and sewer service outside Gloversville will hurt the city’s ability to attract businesses.

“Gloversville is not going to prosper from this,” he said Wednesday. “Anybody in their right mind is not going to settle in Gloversville if they have to pay $21 [per $1,000 of assessed value in property taxes] if they can go outside the city, get water and sewage, and pay $1.10. It doesn’t make sense for businesses or residents to stay in Gloversville after this act because it’s cheaper to live outside the city with the same kinds of resources.”

King said he might have been swayed by that argument if the county weren’t pursuing other water sources. Currently, the Great Sacandaga Lake, the city of Amsterdam and groundwater sources are also being studied as sources for the SMART Waters project, though the county has not taken them nearly as far as the Gloversville deal.

And, King said, it’s not like residents and businesses are flocking to the city now for water and sewer.

“They’re not necessarily coming now,” he said. “And then what happens if and when the county goes and does their own water district? They’re not going to come to Gloversville and we’re not going to get any revenue.”

City residents Linda and Martin Chevian agreed and said they’re now looking into gathering public support for a petition to bring the agreement to a public vote. The deal has already gotten the approval of the city’s Board of Water Commissioners and will go before county supervisors at their July 13 meeting.

According to Fulton County Planning Director Jim Mraz, the county is working on a smart growth plan to offer water and sewer services in the most strategic areas around the county. Even with the Gloversville deal nearly certain, he said the county may still need sources like Amsterdam and the Great Sacandaga Lake to service the eastern part of the county.

“And we’ll deal with those in the same manner that we did with Gloversville,” he said. “We’ll sit down, engage in discussions and work toward trying to reach an agreement that will serve the needs of both parties.”

Greg Young, who represents the city’s Fifth Ward on the Fulton County Board of Supervisors, said he’d like to see a few details worked out, like adding a contingency plan in the event the state Legislature does not renew the additional 1 percent county sale tax at some point in the future and allowing for inflation in an administrative surcharge to be paid to the city of 50 cents per 100 cubic feet of water sold by the county.

“I think my biggest concern about the deal is the lack of transparency,” he said. “The details weren’t released publicly until Monday afternoon, and given such a historic and controversial decision, it was really unfortunate that city residents had very little time to review and comment on the deal after 10 months of closed-door negotiations.”

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