JOHNSTOWN – The city’s independently elected Water Board has asked city Treasurer Mike Gifford and the Common Council to approve a $7.3 million bond plan to perform a laundry list of long-neglected infrastructure projects throughout the city’s Water Department.
“Some of these things haven’t been done in 20 or 30 years,” Water Board President Michael Capparello said. “The dam project should have been done in 2018, but [the Water Board at that time] couldn’t get bonding. They couldn’t get anywhere in the city.”
Although Johnstown’s Water Board is independently elected, it cannot borrow money without the approval of the city’s Common Council, and in recent years friction between the two elected bodies has led to delays in needed improvements in the city’s water system.
The list of infrastructure improvements in the $7.3 million bond proposal includes:
• $4.6 million for phase II and phase III repairs at the Hydaddy-Cork Center Storage Reservoir, deemed a “high hazard” dam by the state Department of Environmental Conservation in 2017 and could lead to a loss of life if flooding were to occur. GPI/Greenman-Pedersen of Albany has been listed as the contractor for the repairs.
• $850,425 to replace all of the city’s water meters with “Neptune Meters.” Ti-Sales of Sudbury, Mass., is listed as the contractor for this work. Capparello said the city has been having trouble with the “Master Meter Co.” meters used to replace about three-quarters of the city’s water meters prior to 2017. He said some of the Master meters have only lasted for two years, while others have lasted five years. “When they die, we’ve been going out and replacing them,” he said. “There’s a wide variety on the time frame [for how long they last.”
• $600,000 to repair sedimentation basins at Sylvan Falls/Apple Bessie. That project will be done by CT Male Associates.
• $450,000 for repairs to the Cold Brook dam, labeled an “intermediate hazard” in 2017 by DEC. CT Male Associates will be hired for this project.
• $255,000 to repair a Route 30A waterline located in front of Noble Ace Hardware. C.T. Male will be hired for this project. “This has been a problem for years, and they can’t find the leak, so it’s better off just getting it repaired altogether,” Capparello said.
• $250,000 for bypass and fall repairs at the Cork Center intake reservoir. No contractor listed for this project.
• $127,750 for three Silverado 3500 pickup trucks
• $98,000 for door and lighting projects at the city’s water reservoirs. C.T. Male is the contractor for this project. “This is a big issue, because none of them have been fixed, ever,” Capparello said.
• $34,370 for SCADA computer system upgrade
• $16,425 for two turbidimeters at both reservoirs, used to measure substances in the water ($10,725), leak locator device from Pollard Water ($3,800) and a chlorinator/vacuum regulator at Cork Center Reservoir from Asanti Control Systems ($1,900).
During the Water Board’s May 17 meeting Capparello told the board that Senior Water Treatment Plant Operator John Denmark approved all of the upgrades included in the bond proposal. Denmark was not at the meeting.
“According to John, this [bond proposal] would bring us right up to where we need to be,” Capparello said.
Capparello said he has had email communication with Gifford that indicated to him the city will consider the bond measure soon.
“I’ve got a couple of emails, back and forth, saying ‘we’re moving forward, we’re moving forward’ — that’s about as much communication as I’ve had with him,” Capparello said.
Gifford did not return phone calls seeking comment for this story.
The Water Board and Gifford have differed in their philosophy over how to fund infrastructure improvements in recent years, which is among the reasons the Common Council in 2020 attempted for the second time in five years to abolish the elected board via voter-referendum. Voters rejected the referendum, choosing to maintain the independent Water Board.
Last year Gifford took control of the Water Department accounts, which led to the Water Board filing a lawsuit against the city to regain control over water revenue accounts, arguing the City Charter puts oversight of the revenue and control of its spending directly under the Water Board and its appointed water clerk.
Capparello said he doesn’t know how much money is in the water revenue accounts at this point because he hasn’t had access to them since August. He said Montgomery County Judge Rebecca Slezak has ruled the Water Board’s lawsuit can proceed and there is a legal conference scheduled for June 9.
First Ward Councilman Bradley Hayner, who serves as the council liaison to the Water Board, said he’s hopeful Gifford will present the council with the bond proposal.
“The last update we got was the treasurer’s office is working on the bond,” Hayner said. “I’m not sure when it’s going to be put in front of the council, hopefully soon.”
In March the state Comptroller’s Office admonished Gifford for not filing required financial reports called Annual Update Documents to the Comptroller’s Office for 2018 and 2019.
“Without accurate financial records, the Common Council did not have accurate financial information to monitor the city’s financial condition, and does not know the city’s current financial condition,” wrote the state Comptroller’s Office.
Hayner said he does not believe the delayed AUD reports for 2018 and 2019 will affect the city’s ability to bond for the Water Department projects.
Hayner is a candidate for city treasurer in the Republican Party primary on June 22, running against political newcomer Thomas D. Herr.
“Hopefully [the bond measure will be put before the council] by our next meeting, if not then probably by July, I would assume,” he said “The biggest thing is the [Hydaddy-Cork Center Storage Reservoir] Phase II. It hasn’t been completed in a number of years and it goes along with the ‘loss of life’ dam repairs, so something has to happen.”