Water main breaks are common in an old city with an aging infrastructure, and they’re not only a nuisance to deal with in winter — when most of them occur — they’re expensive as all get-out. That’s true, too, for homeowners’ water and sewer laterals — the pipes that extend from the mains to each house.
As a story in Monday’s Gazette detailed, the bill for repairing one of those can be as much as $6,000 — a sum many Schenectady homeowners don’t have.
When the repairs aren’t done, the water freezes on the street, creating a hazard for motorists that the city has to address with tons of salt. After 30 days, the water to the house must be shut off, forcing the occupants to move. More than one Schenectady house has been abandoned in this fashion, leaving the city with foreclosure and/or demolition headaches.
So the plan to create what, in essence, would be an insurance pool which General Services Commissioner Carl Olsen’s is pushing, makes sense: Homeowners’ water tax would be raised roughly $48 per year, and the city would assume full responsibility for repairs. Under a cheaper, modified plan, the city could simply cover labor costs, leaving the homeowner to pay material costs. Even this makes more sense than the status quo, because private plumbers now responsible for digging up streets don’t always do such a great job repaving them.
Olsen’s plan is similar to that used by some municipalities for another expensive homeowner repair job — sidewalks. But water laterals tend to be more expensive and they’re obviously more important.