Rotterdam lawmakers approve over $30 million in loans for water and sewer upgrades – The Daily Gazette

ROTTERDAM – Rotterdam residents in the No 5 water district could see their water bills double after lawmakers last week approved a $34 million loan to pay for necessary infrastructure upgrades throughout the district.

City council members approved the loan by a 4-1 vote following a presentation by Albany engineering firm Barton & Loguidice, which outlined the scope of work, which includes digging of a new well and the replacement of dozens of shut-off valves and kilometers of aging pipes. which have often burst and no longer meet the needs of the water system.

Evan Christou was the only dissenting vote, explaining that while the upgrades are necessary, he is against borrowing the lump sum and prefers to make repairs over time when officials can properly budget the work. He said the recent controversy over a proposal to move city offices to ViaPort has reinforced the idea that officials should be careful not to spend taxpayers’ money.

“While I strongly agree that these improvements need to be made, the $34 million figure scared me,” Christou said. “If the ViaPort situation has taught me anything, it’s that before we spend the city’s money, we have to tread very lightly.”

Lawmakers earlier this year canceled a contract with the mall over a procedural error, but it remains unclear whether the city will be able to recoup the $1 million security deposit paid last year. to secure the site using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.

In addition to the $34 million in improvements for Water District No. 5, City Council unanimously approved an additional loan of $3.1 million to cover the increased cost of improving the Sewer District No. 2. The city last year bonded $16.8 million to pay for the project, but the price rose due to inflation and supply chain issues.

Board member Samantha Miller-Herrera said she was against the additional sewer upgrade loan because of the impact it will have on ratepayers, but noted that the upgrades were needed. She said she would not vote for any additional borrowing to advance the project in the future.

“I want to be clear: If this project comes back asking for more links, my vote will be an absolute no, because sometimes when you’re setting budgets, you have to stick to budgets,” she said.

It is unclear when construction on either project will begin. The sewer project is still in development, while the Water District No. 5 improvements are yet to be tendered, which is the next step in the process now that funding has been secured.

Officials said the loan is needed to address longstanding issues that have plagued the water district for decades and will ultimately benefit residents in the future.

Pipe breaks have been a common occurrence in the district for years, resulting in extended downtime while crews work to make repairs. A series of valves designed to shut off water in the event of a break no longer work, meaning more customers are affected if they break, according to Roy Richardson, chief engineer at Barton & Loguidice, who noted that the updates upgrading to the aging water system has not been completed for decades.

The water system upgrades come as officials try to determine a plan to install water meters due to a mandate issued by the state Department of Environmental Conservation that dates back to 2019. Officials have been strong in their stance against water metering, and even asked state lawmakers to approve a law exempting the city from metering.

Water infrastructure improvements include the sinking of a new well, which will replace one of the original wells installed in the 1950s that was over-pumped for years and has reached the end of its life .

The work would also include the replacement of 32 shut-off valves that no longer work, as well as 32 fire hydrants. A total of 3.5 miles of new pipe will be installed, including a 30-inch pipe that will replace the existing 20-inch transmission main that runs from the Rice Road wellfield along West Campbell Road from St. Burdeck and North Thompson Street.

The works will also include the construction of several lines that will connect to the existing system so that customers can always have water in the event of an outage.

“This project is really about strengthening the system and making it good for the next generation and many generations to come, and not just for current demands,” Richardson said.

Richardson estimated that the work would double the rate for an existing user in Water District No. 5, about $158 in operations and maintenance costs and about $20.10 for debt service. The new rate would be between $295 and $316, depending on how much grant the city can get for the project.

Earlier this year, residents of Water District No. 5 were hit with a higher-than-expected water bill after the city changed its accounting practices, moving operations and maintenance costs from the bill to January to June.

The city has applied for a $5 million state grant and is also hoping to secure a $10 million federal grant to pay for the project. Officials are also considering getting zero-interest or low-interest loans to cover costs.

Meanwhile, improvements to Sewer District No. 2 are expected to increase current rates from $385 per year to $584, depending on grant funding. The city has already secured a federal grant of $960,000 and hopes to secure an additional grant of $4.8 million. Other grant opportunities are also expected to become available next year.

Assistant Supervisor Jack Dodson said improvements to the water and sewer district had been needed for decades, but previous administrations chose not to continue work, which he said drove up costs. He noted that there are many funding opportunities at the state and federal levels that can help pay for the project and that the city should act before those opportunities disappear.

“We are at a critical moment in the city of Rotterdam,” he said. “We use infrastructure that our grandparents and parents paid for.

Board member Samantha Miller-Herrera said she was against borrowing money to pay for water improvements, citing the rising cost of living and the impact on taxpayers, but said noted that she voted to approve the loan because she lacked the political support to have it projected as she wants.

Meanwhile, Supervisor Mollie Collins said she was uncomfortable borrowing the $34 million, which she called “incomprehensible,” but noted the city’s infrastructure had reached a point where something had to be done.

She noted that the city’s water issues could impact the health of residents and create a fire safety issue.

“I am concerned about the health and well-being of the people of Rotterdam if we do nothing,” she said. “It bothers me that we have to close five different valves because they don’t work. I don’t mind the $34 million, but it has to be done.

Contact journalist Chad Arnold at: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.

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