Sewer and water workers in nearby Niskayuna are shaking their heads at Schenectady’s various proposals for dealing with leaking water lines running to and from houses.
“It doesn’t have to be a big deal,” said Richard Pollack, Niskayuna’s superintendent of water, sewer and engineering. He said his department can’t understand why Schenectady is even entertaining complex solutions when there’s a simple fix.
The problem is that a few property owners can’t afford to fix their leaking water or sewer laterals each year. In Schenectady, city workers had to evict residents from seven properties last year for failure to fix these problems.
In each case, the owners said they couldn’t afford the $4,000 or more that the repair would cost, Commissioner of General Services Carl Olsen said.
That situation arises in Niskayuna too. But there, town workers make the repair if the owners can’t afford it, Pollack said.
“We send the homeowner a bill. If they don’t pay it in a certain time, it goes on their tax bill,” he said.
He wondered why Schenectady wouldn’t consider the same solution.
Olsen said the city’s code doesn’t allow city workers to do that.
“Right now, we don’t have that liberty,” he said, adding that he wasn’t sure putting the cost on the tax bill would work. “I will caution you, a large number of those individuals may not pay that bill,” he said.
Olsen has proposed three different options, all of which would involve the city or its contractors fixing every lateral that breaks.
The proposals come with a variety of costs. Olsen proposed a $48 annual fee for every property owner in the city, a flat fee for service or a fee for materials and the permit. The fees, and the repairs, would apply only to houses with three units or fewer.
Council members have said they are flatly opposed to a citywide fee, particularly because some residents have recently paid to replace their own laterals.
“We raised heck when we instituted the garbage fee,” said Councilman Ed Kosuir. “I can’t imagine what this would do.”
Councilman Vince Riggi added that the garbage fee has doubled since 2004.
“Is that $48 going to be forever? I don’t see how it could be,” he said, before asking rhetorically whether the city would start repairing roofs next. “Unfortunately, what we have is we have people in homes who can’t really afford to be homeowners.”
But Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo said she wanted to find some solution for those who couldn’t afford to fix their laterals.
“As a single homeowner working for a nonprofit, the thought of my lateral going scares the heck out of me,” she said. “I would have to take out a loan.”
She said she worried about those who did not have the financial wherewithal to get a loan.
Olsen said the worst part of his job was kicking out homeowners because they couldn’t afford the repair.
“Seven is seven too many,” he said of last year’s evictions.
He said a $48 fee was reasonable.
“It’s a great deal. It’s a lot more affordable to pay $50 a year than to come up with that kind of cash overnight,” he said.