Schenectady County

Rotterdam rejects petitions seeking vote on sewer project

Two petitions submitted by Rotterdam residents seeking to force a public vote on the creation of the
Hamburg Street looking north in Rotterdam is pictured. The Town Board has approved a sewer district for the area, but some residents are opposed.
Hamburg Street looking north in Rotterdam is pictured. The Town Board has approved a sewer district for the area, but some residents are opposed.

Two petitions submitted by Rotterdam residents seeking to force a public vote on the creation of the Hamburg Street Sewer District were found to be “insufficient” by the town for undisclosed reasons.

The deadline for petitions was March 12, but one resident is pressing forward with possible legal action anyway.

Some residents are criticizing the town for what they perceive as an effort to prevent them from exercising their right to petition for a vote.

About two weeks after the board’s Feb. 10 unanimous vote to begin constructing the sewer district this summer, several of the 137 property owners in the district began circulating a petition to get the decision put to a vote by the affected residents.

The sewer district would consist of properties adjacent to Hamburg Street between the existing railway tracks running parallel to Chrisler Avenue to the intersection of Hamburg Street and Curry Road.

For now, it would cost property owners in the district $1,204 annually for a home that uses the average 75,000 gallons of water per year.

All developed properties in the district are required to connect once the system is complete, which is expected to be spring 2018.

As required by town law, Town Clerk Diane Marco provided Corey Augusta, one of the property owners on Hamburg Street, with a petition form the last week of February.

Augusta submitted the petition with 15 signatures to the town March 1, but was later informed the document Marco gave him was unacceptable.

Marco then provided residents Victor Murdock, Chris DiPisa and Augusta with the new, “correct” petition form March 7, just a few days before the March 12 deadline. A second petition on the correct form with four signatures was presented to the Town Board on March 9 at its public meeting.

Murdock is not one of the property owners on Hamburg Street who would have to help foot the bill, but said he has been disgusted by the way the Town Board has handled the Hamburg Sewer District decision, so he stepped up to help fight it.

“This ‘bogus’ petition was just to get us closer to the deadline,” Augusta said at the Town Board meeting, holding up the first invalid petition sheet.

“In our defense, this was new for us,” Town Supervisor Steve Tommasone replied. “We did provide you with a form that is acceptable to the town clerk.”

Murdock and DiPisa each submitted a petition to the Town Board at the meeting after echoing the concerns shared by many Hamburg Street residents.

“If you have any honor, you will honor this petition,” Murdock said before turning it in. “If it’s possible, put yourselves in the shoes of the people on Hamburg Street who have to carry the weight of the debt for this project. I know if you were on the other side of the equation, you would demand an up or down vote.”

But two days later, on March 11, a day before the deadline, Marco sent Murdock and DiPisa letters that read: “In reviewing the petitions for the Hamburg Street sewer district … I have come to the determination that your petitions are insufficient.”

The town clerk did not provide any reasons for her decision in the letters.

Marco did not return The Gazette’s calls and emails asking why she found the petitions to be inadequate.

“I’m not surprised, but it’s disgusting,” Murdock said after the second petition was rejected. “They’re looking for anything that would make that petition insufficient.”

“We tried to jump through all their hoops, but they were intent to give us more so we’d fall short,” Augusta said last Monday. “I guess that’s it. I’ll have to accept it. What other choice do I have?”

Tommasone said the annual cost of $1,204 will likely decrease as more users connect to the sewer system over time, and would go down if the town gets grant money from the state for the project. The estimated maximum cost of the wastewater project is $4.17 million, which the town plans to bond for 30 years.

If residents manage to block the sewer project, Tommasone also said the town would not be eligible for grant money to lower the cost.

“The project will offer tremendous economic benefits to the businesses and the property owners along Hamburg Street,” Tommasone told The Gazette earlier this month. “I feel compassionate about what’s going on for the residents, but I feel passionate about making the town a better place and bringing more tax base there.”

Murdock said the sewer district would benefit the town, but the town residents who have to bear the burden of the project have the right to consent to it.

“While the Rotterdam Town Board may have acted legally, the opaque process that you engaged in represents, in our opinion, the worst in municipal governance,” Murdock told the Town Board at its meeting. “Considering the size and scope of this project, putting meeting notices in the newspaper and posting announcements on the town website falls far short of engaging and educating the public to the Town Board’s intentions.”

Murdock said he has hired an attorney to see if the Town Board missed a step in the process, which could nullify the vote.

“I was expecting them to find any reason to reject the petitions,” he said last week. “We’re going to keep moving forward.”

Reach Gazette reporter Kate Seckinger at 395-3113, kseck[email protected] or @KateSeckinger on Twitter on Twitter.

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