Normally, we'd be right behind the residents of the proposed Hamburg Street Sewer District, cheering on their efforts to force a public vote on the creation of the district.
The $4.17 million project, after all, will create a large new expense for those residents — an estimated $1,800 or more in its first year and an annual expense thereafter of around $1,200 for ordinary residential usage.
When you're going to be whacked in the pocketbook like that, you should have a vote, right?
But residents of the district should be wary about taking on the risk that the project will be defeated by a small number of upset homeowners in the very limited service area.
The 137 property owners that will pay for the project and vote in the referendum will benefit from it the most. Expenses for upkeep and other problems related to private residential and commercial septic systems will disappear.
But the benefits of the district won't be limited to that specific area. They will be shared among all 29,000 residents of the town, as well as future residents and businesses, well into the future. Having municipal sewer along the commercial corridor could well be a boon to the entire community, bringing in needed retail and other commercial development in the economically struggling town and bolstering the tax base.
And once the pipes are in, the system could be expanded to other areas, spreading out the annual cost beyond the inaugural district residents and enticing more economic development.
The return from the additional revenue in property and sales tax will help offset town and school taxes all throughout Rotterdam — including for residents of the district — and will help the town more easily afford necessities like new water and sewer mains to replace the aging underground infrastructure, street repairs and additional police coverage.
If only a handful of people in a limited voter pool are able to kill this project, then the town may never realize its many benefits.
They also won’t be able to capitalize on potential savings of doing the work now.
Because the work on the sewers would be timed to be done while the state Department of Transportation is tearing up the road as part of a $7.5 million road and sidewalk reconstruction project next year, the community can ill afford to put this plan off into the future when residents feel they can better afford it.
If it's voted down now, the town won't be able to dig up the new pavement again without significant local expense. Grant opportunities will dry up and the economy will continue to struggle.
To help reduce the cost to homeowners and businesses, town officials should redouble their efforts with state and federal representatives to secure grants and other funding. That might assuage some residents' financial fears.
This may be Rotterdam's last chance to do this. A referendum with very limited voter participation could kill this project forever.
Residents should consider what they might be risking before signing on to hold a public vote.