Rotterdam

Rotterdam lawmakers approve more than $30 million in borrowing for water, sewer upgrades

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ROTTERDAM — Residents of Rotterdam in Water District No. 5 could see their water bill double after lawmakers last week approved $34 million in borrowing to pay for needed infrastructure upgrades throughout the district.

Town Board members approved the borrowing in a 4-1 vote following a presentation from the Albany engineering firm, Barton & Loguidice, that laid out the scope of work, which includes digging a new well and replacing dozens of shutoff valves and miles of aging pipes that have frequently burst and no longer meet the water system’s needs.

Evan Christou was the lone dissenting vote, explaining that while the upgrades are necessary, he is against borrowing the lump sum and would rather make the repairs over time, when officials can properly budget for the work. He said the recent controversy over a proposal to move town offices to ViaPort has reinforced the idea that officials should be careful about spending taxpayer money.

“As much as I firmly agree that these improvements need to be made, the $34 million number scared the living daylight out of me,” Christou said. “If the ViaPort situation taught me one thing, it’s that before we spend the town’s money, we need to tread very lightly.”

Lawmakers, earlier this year, nullified a contract with the shopping mall over a procedure error, but it remains unclear if the town will be able to recoup the $1 million security deposit paid out last year to secure the site using American Rescue Plan Act funds.

In addition to the $34 million in upgrades for Water District No. 5, the Town Board unanimously approved an additional $3.1 million in borrowing to cover increased costs for improvements to Sewer District No. 2. The town, last year, bonded $16.8 million to pay for the project, but the price has increased due to inflation and supply chain issues.

Board member Samantha Miller-Herrera said she was against the additional borrowing for the sewer upgrades over the impact it will have on taxpayers, but noted the upgrades are necessary. She said she would not vote for any additional borrowing to move the project forward in the future.

“I want to be clear: if this project comes back asking for any more bonding, my vote will be an absolute no, because sometimes when you set budgets, you have to stick to budgets,” she said. 

It’s unclear when construction on either project will begin. The sewer project is still in development, while the improvements to Water District No. 5 must still be put out to bid, which is the next step in the process now that funding has been secured.

Officials said the borrowing is necessary to address longstanding issues that have plagued the water district for decades, and will ultimately benefit residents moving forward.

Burst pipes have been a frequent occurrence in the district for years resulting in prolonged shutoff periods as crews work to make repairs. A series of valves designed to turn off the water in the event of a breakage no longer work, which means more customers are impacted in the event of a break, according to Roy Richardson, managing engineer for Barton & Loguidice, who noted that upgrades to the aging water system have not been completed in decades.

Upgrades to the water system come as officials are trying to determine a plan for installing water meters due to a mandate issued by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation that can be traced back to 2019. Officials have been firm in their stance against water metering, and have even asked state lawmakers to approve a law exempting the town from metering.

The water infrastructure upgrades include digging a new well, which will take the place of one of the original wells installed in the 1950s that has been over pumped for years and has reached the end of its lifespan.

Work would also include replacing 32 shutoff valves that no longer work, along with 32 fire hydrants. A total of 3.5 miles of new pipe will be installed, including a 30-inch pipe that will replace the existing 20-inch transmission main that runs from the Rice Road well field along West Campbell Road, Burdeck Street and North Thompson Street.

Work will also include constructing several lines that will connect to the existing system so customers can still have water in the event of a break.

“This project is really about robusting the system and making it good for the next generation and many generations to come, and not just the current demands,” Richardson said.

Richardson estimated that the work will double the rate for an existing user in Water District No. 5, which is around $158 in operation and maintenance costs and about $20.10 for debt service. The new rate would rate between $295 and $316, depending on how much grant funding the town can secure for the project.

Earlier this year, residents of Water District No. 5 were hit with a higher-than-expected water bill after the town changed its accounting practices, shifting the operation and maintenance costs from the January to June bill.

The town has applied for a $5 million state grant and is also hoping to secure a $10 million federal grant to pay for the project. Officials are also looking into securing zero- and low-interest loans to cover the costs.

Meanwhile, improvements at Sewer District No. 2 are expected to increase the current rates from $385 annually up to $584, depending on grant funding. The town has already secured a $960,000 federal grant and is hoping to secure an addition $4.8 million state grant. Other grant opportunities are also expected to become available next year.

Deputy Supervisor Jack Dodson said the improvements to both the water and sewer district has been needed for decades, but previous administrations have opted not to move forward with the work, which he said has driven up the costs. He noted that there are ample funding opportunities on the state and federal levels that can help pay for the project and the town should act before those opportunities disappear.

“We’re at a critical juncture in the town of Rotterdam,” he said. “We’re using infrastructure that our grandparents and parents have paid for.”

Board member Samantha Miller-Herrera said she was against the borrowing to pay for the water improvements, citing the increased costs of living and impact on taxpayers, but noted she voted to approve the borrowing because she didn’t have the political support to do the project the way she would like.

Meanwhile, Supervisor Mollie Collins said she was uneasy about borrowing the $34 million, which she called “incomprehensible,” but noted that the town’s infrastructure has reached a point where something needs to be.

She noted that the town’s water issues could impact the health of residents and create a safety issue in the event of a fire.

“I am concerned about the health and well-being of the people of Rotterdam if we don’t do something,” she said. “It bothers me that we have to shut down five different valves because they’re not working. It bothers me the $34 million, but it has to be done.”

Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.  

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