$38 million question

It was billed as an informational meeting and some 40 people were on hand Tuesday in Dunkirk’s City Hall to hear more about a proposed North County Water District.

The main item, whether or not the city should support a resolution naming Chautauqua County as the lead agency in applying for $38 million in a Consoli-dated Funding Application to the West-ern Regional Economic Development Agency, will be decided Monday when council holds its first August meeting.

The entire council, along with Mayor Anthony J. Dolce and other city officials were joined by members of the Chadwick Bay Regional Development Commission, other elected officials and interested citizens in the nearly two-hour session that was moved to the court room to accommodate everyone.

County Executive Greg Edwards, CBRDC Executive Director Kathy Tam-pio and CBRDC consultants Rick Henry and Patrick Brennan explained the resolution and provided information on the possible scope of a project.

Edwards explained the genesis of the proposed district came about after a county Health Department study of north county water districts showed there were millions in upgrades, repairs and building needs required. That study lead to Dunkirk’s $17 million-plus upgrade that is currently ongoing. Other municipalities are in the study stage or somewhat further along, and Edwards explained that going the regional route would lower the costs for users in the long run and provide stability to local manufacturers.

Council had previously provided a list of questions to CBRDC officials, mainly having to do with what would be the effect on the city and its plant if the water district became a reality.

Ownership of the city’s plant was a concern and council was told the plant would be leased by a water authority that would be set up if the district becomes a reality. The water district would be responsible for improvements that would up the plant’s capacity to 10 million gallons per day, along with operation and maintenance costs. According to written answers provided to council, the district would assume the $17 million debt related to the consent order and an additional $3.55 million that it would cost to make the plant capable of producing 10 million gallons per day.

Each municipality would be contracted with the district to provide the same services and maintenance as is currently done, with the district paying for the expenses. Each municipality would set its own rates, based on its actual expenses, with the district’s costs added to that figure. The district expenses would include minimal administrative costs and local municipalities would continue to service water system components and bill customers.

While council members won’t vote until Monday’s regular meeting on a resolution supporting the county as lead agency for the CFA, one city official said it was a good idea.

Department of Public Works Director Tony Gugino pointed out the city was upgrading its water system because it had to.

“From a business side … whether everybody jumps into this or not, the more people that lay pipe in the ground … provide more customers to the city of Dunkirk filtration plant,” he stated.

Gugino added that non-city customers pay a higher rate and that it would be ridiculous for anybody to try and put a number on potential customer growth until any new infrastructure is in place. He added that all municipalities should have as much water line transmission and storage capabilities as they can to try and attract customers.

“This proposed district parallels a lot of what I’ve always felt. So, because of my simplistic questions when we first met two weeks ago, I demanded a lot of hard answers,” Gugino continued. “I think it’s prudent for them to pare down and keep the resolution simple. For me, as a resident, what is the goal, what is your resolution for? Authorize us to go find some money.”

Gugino said negotiations would come later when the scope of the project is decided.

“The scope of the project today you can’t even put a finger on, it’s either a) everybody sign on to the spirit of a very generic resolution, or b) don’t sign on. … There are so many subsequent levels of discussion and negotiation that will and must be met, … but that’s secondary assuming that there is a $38 million pot of money out there to come this way.”

Gugino said the goal of the resolution is simple.

“Do you support an idea for an entity to represent this part of the county to see if there’s a pot of money out there. … From there you know what your budget is, then you pare your scope of work down, or up, based on how many people want to jump into this and how many don’t,” he explained. “It’s not personal, it’s reality, it’s a business scenario.”

Audience comments overwhelmingly favored the county being the lead agency for the CFA, although one person did call for the city to maintain its control over the water plant.

After the meeting, Councilwoman-at-Large Stephanie Kiyak was asked about the meeting and the upcoming resolution. She replied that the meeting was important because it put council’s concerns on record, even though many answers are not yet available.

“We want the public and the residents to know how seriously we take this whole situation. We will not be making any kind of decisions without having all of the facts in place,” she explained. “Moving forward with the consolidated grant at this point, with our specific tweaking of the resolution, is just stating that we’re really going after exploration of the funds. We’re allowing the county to explore what can be done with this funding. It sets more of a basic level where we’re coming from at this point in time, and the details of how the plant would be involved, who would run the plant, all of the dollars involved, that is still yet to be determined and I’m OK with that.”

Kiyak said that at this point she will vote yes on the resolution Monday.

“I will be waiting to see what is in the meat of this resolution, because of course even thought the county is the lead, we’re still endorsing what is inside that resolution,” she added. “I do want to see what’s in there and unless something stands out that says, ‘no, don’t do this,’ unless we’re advised otherwise, we do have a city attorney that also advises us, I can’t see why I wouldn’t go forward with it.”

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