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Editorial: Don’t repeat mistakes of past sewer project

Editorial: Don’t repeat mistakes of past sewer project

Ballston needs to address residents' concerns that led to past defeat at polls
Editorial: Don’t repeat mistakes of past sewer project
Voters line up to cast ballots on the Burnt Hills sewer proposal in April.
Photographer: Erica Miller

If officials in Ballston want to avoid another crushing defeat at the polls of a proposed sewer line, they’ll have to avoid repeating some of their past mistakes and address the reasons why the last referendum went down so hard.

Only a few months after a proposed $15.8 million sewer project in another part of town was defeated 419-108 in April, town officials are moving forward with a new version of an old plan to hook up about 160 homes in the Carpenter Acres neighborhood on the west side of Route 50.

Residents of the neighborhood had petitioned the town for sewers in 2015, and engineers drafted a report in 2016 that’s available on the town’s website.

Some of the homes in the neighborhood that would be covered by the new line are newer homes built in an area not suitable for individual septic systems.

As they did in April, town officials could face an uphill battle for passage.

One major reason cited for the April defeat was the cost.

Under the defeated plan, voters were being asked to fork over about $930 a year for a mandatory connection plus potentially thousands more to hook up. Some residents, particularly those on fixed incomes, said that amount would be difficult for them to pay.

But already, cost looks like it again could be a factor

 Early estimates have the new project costing the average homeowner between $1,400 and $1,600 a year. That doesn’t include the cost of hooking into the new system, which could range from $3,500 to $10,000.

Town officials last time around didn’t clearly articulate how those costs might be reduced for some through more connections, government grants and financing, and other methods of offsetting or deferring the overall expense.

They also didn’t convince voters how the town would benefit as a whole through a higher tax base, which would help offset their property taxes. 

Most importantly, town officials need to overcome the cost concerns early on.

Another reason voters objected to the defeated plan was that hookup was mandatory; those that didn’t hook in were subject to fines and other penalties. If the town doesn’t get enough buy-in from enough homeowners to make the project feasible, will it again require residents to hook up? If so, they’ll risk turning off more potential voters.

Officials will also need to convince people that their existing septic systems will eventually be obsolete or inadequate and that the benefits of going with a municipal system now will be better for them in the long run — even with the comparatively high costs. They didn’t do that well the last time, either.

It’s very possible this sewer system is needed and that residents will be receptive to it. After all, there’s already been interest in the neighborhood for it. 

But if the costs are too high, the details too thin and the benefits not articulated clearly enough, the town faces a repeat of April’s vote.

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