Schenectady City Councilman Ed Kosiur is understandably reluctant to embrace the idea of creating an insurance pool to handle homeowners’ costly water and sewer lateral repairs. He recently had to fork over $4,500 for such a repair to his own house, and no one helped him; so why should he pay an estimated $48 per year in higher water taxes, as General Services Commissioner Carl Olsen has proposed, to help anyone else needing the wickedly expensive infrastructure fix?
Given Kosiur’s personal experience and obvious bias, he probably should recuse himself from voting on this issue. But he has made an interesting counter-proposal with some elements worth considering.
Kosiur wants to make sure the lateral breaks, which often occur in winter, get addressed right away. That’s a good idea because it will save the city tons of road salt which it routinely must apply when water from a break freezes on the roadway.
It will also save a lot of houses, which homeowners who can’t afford the costly repairs sometimes must abandon and which subsequently can be rendered unsalvageable. Abandoned houses are bad for neighborhoods, and the city doesn’t need the headaches that inevitably come with foreclosure.
Kosiur would have private plumbers handle the work - which makes more sense than putting additional employees on the city payroll for work that tends to be sporadic.
But he’d still expect homeowners to pay the full shot of the repairs - adding the cost to their tax bill and giving them two years to pay it off interest-free. That may be good enough for someone like Kosiur, whose jobs with the city and county pay him roughly $100,000 per year. But a lot of retirees and other low-income Schenectadians can’t afford $4,000 to $6,000, whether it has to be paid all at once or in eight quarterly installments over two years.
This is where a compromise should be sought: Have the city contract the work out with private plumbers (using competitive bidding once a year), make homeowners pay some share of the repairs, but create an insurance pool to subsidize the rest.
That’s the neighborly way, and while it may not seem fair to people like Kosiur who’ve recently had to bite the whole bullet, it’s the best way to protect the greatest number of city homeowners from what can be a budget-busting repair.