Burnt Hills

Large voter turnout in Ballston sewer referendum

Town Supervisor said focus is now on Ballston Lake and Carpenter's Acres sewer projects and sewer use law
More than 73 precent of voters turned out to vote on the sewer proposal in Burnt Hills.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
More than 73 precent of voters turned out to vote on the sewer proposal in Burnt Hills.

BALLSTON — Voter turnout Wednesday for the $15.8 million proposed sewer plan was greater than 73 percent — higher than the presidential election, Ballston Town Supervisor Tim Szczepaniak said. 

“It was fantastic,” he said. “I’d like to see that kind of turnout for every election moving forward.”

Of the 718 eligible voters, 527 of them turned up at Town Hall on Charlton Road to vote on the proposed sewer plan.

Ballston residents overwhelmingly rejected the plan, which sought to connect 527 parcels along each side of Route 50 — between the Glenville town line and Route 146A — and on the residential roads around it, including Lake Hill and Kingsley roads. The final vote was 419 to 108. 

The large voter turnout on Wednesday in Ballston was similar to the Shenendehowa Central School District vote in December, when residents largely approved the sale of 37 acres of undeveloped land to the town of Clifton Park by a vote of 2,723 to 535. 

Szczepaniak said he felt the reason the sewer plan failed in Ballston was because, “the cost of the project was too high for the residents to sustain.”

If approved, each connection would have cost an estimated $926 per year for sewer infrastructure, a number that included both construction debt service and the anticipated annual use charges.

Those connecting would also have faced a one-time cost of between $3,500 and $10,000 to hook up to the system and decommission their septic systems, based on whether the home required a grinder pump and how far it was from the sewer system.

A new connection to the sewer main would have cost $30 to $40 per foot of distance covered.

The town sent a mailer with facts about the proposed sewer plan to the 527 parcels impacted by the plan and held five forums to educate residents. 

On Wednesday, Szczepaniak said the Town Board could have voted to move the sewer plan forward without seeking residents’ approval. 

“We didn’t think that was the right thing to do with a project of this magnitude,” he said. “It should be voted on by the people in the sewer district.” 

Susan Robbiano, a 27-year resident of the Town of Ballston who was against the proposed sewer plan, said she feels there was a political motive behind the town’s decision to allow residents to vote. 

“It may be because they want to get re-elected, so they want to let the people think they’ll be good representatives instead of getting people upset,” she said. 

Robbiano said she was thrilled by the results of Wednesday’s referendum. 

“We got our town back,” she said. “Now that we have it back, we want to keep it.” 

Robbiano said she feels efforts by more than two dozen residents who opposed the sewer plan, including herself, helped fuel the referendum results. 

“Twenty-five of us canvased every house several times over the last few weeks to talk to everyone,” she said. “We weren’t surprised by the results at all.”

Before Wednesday’s vote, Robbiano said she never participated in a town election; she’s been a resident for nearly 30 years. 

“I will from now on,” she said. 

Robbiano added, “We’ve all just been sleeping until this board came in and started shoving this down our throats.”

Prior to the sewer vote, Robbiano said many of the residents hadn’t interacted with each other.

“Most of us didn’t know each other, but we all got together instantly and started working together,” she said. “It was the most amazing creation of a team, and it was an incredible experience.” 

Szczepaniak said he’s unsure whether the Route 50 sewer plan vote would resurface again. 

“My guess is, if it is (put back up for a vote), it’ll be several years out before it’s addressed again,” he said. “It’ll be more expensive, because as years go by, the cost of materials and labor increases.” 

Now that the Route 50 sewer plan vote is over, Szczepaniak said the town is shifting its focus to the Ballston Lake and Carpenter’s Acres sewer projects.

The Ballston Lake project, which was approved in October 2015, is in the design phase and will bring sewers to properties around the lake and the hamlet’s southern edge. 

Szczepaniak said residents from the Carpenter’s Acres housing subdivision asked the town for a sewer system for their neighborhood. A referendum is planned for the summer for that sewer project, Szczepaniak said. 

The town is also looking to implement a sewer use law for the Ballston Lake sewer project, which would require property owners to connect to the town system within three years of availability. 

Exemptions to the connection law would include properties that are more than 300 feet from the main.

Also, properties with septic systems that are less than five years old would be granted a five-year extension to connect.

Property owners with annual incomes of less than three times the U.S. poverty threshold could also apply for a five-year extension to connect. 

A public hearing on the proposed sewer use law for the Ballston Lake sewer project is scheduled for 6 p.m. on May 8 in Town Hall, 323 Charlton Road in Ballston Spa. 

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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