JOHNSTOWN - Fulton County legislators Monday tentatively authorized a $50,000 contract with a Saratoga County firm to design a system to possibly consolidate all water and sewer services within the county.
The Board of Supervisors' Buildings and Grounds-Highway Committee took the action 6-1 despite formal opposition from Gloversville 5th Ward Supervisor Michael Ponticello, a candidate for Gloversville mayor. He questioned how county consolidation helps his city.
"I particularly don't see the benefit for them right now," Ponticello said. "I think a lot of people are saying they won't sell their water. They want autonomy."
County Administrative Officer Jon Stead, left, discusses the water and sewer proposal with the Buildings and Grounds-Highway Committee Monday.
The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich
Ponticello said he also was "not comfortable" with having the county spend $50,000 to come up with a study when it has "experts" in-house to collectively design a system.
Some county officials say the system would be a more efficient model to deliver water and sewer services and attract more business to the county. Municipal water systems operating in the county are in the cities of Gloversville and Johnstown; villages of Broadalbin, Mayfield and Northville; and at Sacandaga Park in the town of Northampton. There are wastewater operations for the two cities, the villages of Broadalbin and Mayfield and Sacandaga Park.
The committee authorized board Chairman William Waldron to execute a $50,000 agreement with Environmental Design Partnership of Clifton Park to prepare a model for the so-called "SMART Waters" system the county is considering creating.
"I believe it's up to us to try to get along and get these projects along without harming the cities," said Stratford Supervisor Robert Johnson.
The contract will be reviewed today by the Economic Development & Environment Committee and on Thursday by the Finance Committee before going to the full board for final action July 8.
County Planning Director James Mraz told the committee Monday the SMART system is a proposed 2014 county capital project for the county, but only as a "place holder." If it isn't wanted, he said it will be dropped as a project.
Although he favored the agreement Monday, Johnstown 1st Ward Supervisor Richard Handy said he agrees with Ponticello. Handy said the county has "enough smart people," such as Mraz, county Administrative Officer Jon Stead and Fulton-Montgomery Community College President Dustin Swanger to design a possible county system.
"I think [Environmental Design Partnership] is going to tell us the same thing," Handy said. "We just have to get together to do it."
Stead said something must be done to stimulate the economy locally, where Glove Cities taxpayers pay roughly a total of $54 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, not including sewer and water rates.
"We're not shovel-ready now, where there's vacant, useable land," he said. "Our property tax rates right now are too high. It's prohibitive."
Mayfield Supervisor Rick Argotsinger, committee chairman, told the city supervisors, "I don't understand why you won't participate in the study."
He said annexation hasn't "helped in the past."
Johnstown Town Supervisor Nancy MacVean said she doesn't want the cities to take away all her town's taxable resources.
MacVean said part of the problem with economic development in the cities is "you've got to do something with Main Street" and not just think about annexing town land.
Mraz said five other counties in New York state have a county water and sewer system and more than a dozen counties are in control of either water or sewer services.
Waldron speculated it might be more advantageous to have the county do everything on its own because economic development is "far more important."
"I almost feel we should drop the idea of this today due to the resistance of the two cities," he said.
Officials from Gloversville and Johnstown have been skeptical in recent weeks about a county system. Some officials say the individual systems work fine now and they would lose control of their current water and sewer systems under the county plan. They also fear the state may get involved in setting future water and sewer rates. Other concerns include having city taxpayers pay twice - for a city system and county system.
Additional concerns include whether those who don't have water and sewer services would be forced to be part of the system.
Another concern is whether taxes would go up under such a system and whether it would be another unwanted layer of government, officials from the cities have said.
Michael Anich can be reached at email@example.com.