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Aspen Water District overcharge remains outstanding in Johnstown

Aspen Water District overcharge remains outstanding in Johnstown

Reserves reduce bill from $59k to $15k
Aspen Water District overcharge remains outstanding in Johnstown
Members of the Johnstown Town Board discuss issues during a meeting at town hall Monday night.
Photographer: Jason Subik / Gazette Reporter

JOHNSTOWN -- The approximately 55 homes in the Aspen Hills Water District still owe the town of Johnstown about $15,000, and it looks like it's going to stay that way for the foreseeable future.

While Town Board member Walt Lane, who resides in the water district, proposed a plan to pay off the remaining bill in installments, the measure was deadlocked 2-2 at a board meeting earlier this month. Lane and Supervisor Jack Wilson voted in favor of the plan, while town board members Tim Rizzo and Daryl Baldwin voted against it. Town Board member Don VanDeusan did not attend that meeting.

The board chose not to reintroduce the legislation Monday night.

"The board just didn't want to do it," Lane said. "I don't know what the next step is. Right now, it's not getting paid, and it's not on the agenda."

The Aspen Hills Water bill goes back to a $59,000 water leak, which occurred between 2011 and 2015. The leak was the result of a contractor connecting to the water pipes inside the water district — which includes homes on Route 67, Breckenridge Street and Horseshoe Drive. Town officials believe the contractor connected to a city fire hydrant to test the lines for leaks and just left the water running.

Lane said Johnstown's accounting consultant Bruce Van Genderen discovered a maintenance fund with about $44,000 in it set aside for the rate payers of the Aspen Hills Water District.

"We didn't know about it. Bruce Van Genderen found it for us," Lane said.

Lane said part of his plan was to add a charge to the repayment plan to replenish the maintenance fund.

"There should be no need to do that on a regular basis, the pipes are relatively new, and we've had no problems; that we know of," Lane said.

Baldwin said the lack of knowledge of what was happening with the water leak between 2011 and 2015 motivated his no vote on the repayment plan.

"We have a town resolution that says anytime a town line item is over-budget we are to be notified immediately. This leak went three-quarters of a year — we should have been motivated after the first line item went to $15,000. Then we would have caught it right then," he said. "The bill was $45,000 before we were told."

Baldwin said Johnstown's former bookkeeper Lita Hillier was not giving the board accurate and timely information during the time of the leak.

Hillier was not reappointed as bookkeeper for several Fulton County towns, including Johnstown, Caroga, Mayfield and Ephratah, in 2017 after it was discovered she had failed to conduct her duties adequately during the time period her husband, Fulton County Sheriff's Captain Garth Hillier, was dying of cancer. Garth Hillier died in 2014. Van Genderen was hired in 2017 to straighten out Johnstown's books after Hillier was not reappointed.

Lane said Johnstown will likely never find the private contractor who caused the water leak.

"We've tried everything we can think of. We've worked with the district attorney, trying to do that. We've done investigations with contractors who were in the area, trying to figure it out. Our best guess is the company no longer exists," Lane said. "It was a long time ago when they put this stuff in. Nobody has any idea who this was. No permits were ever requested to put that stuff in, from either the city or the town. We went through all our books, and the city water department has no record of anybody requesting a permit to install such a system. Of course, you can put all the pipes in the ground that you want, with the original building contract. We don't know who they are."

Lane said he's confident the remaining $15,000 will be paid eventually.

 

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