Supers agreed to spend $325,000 on water, sewer lines
By David Avitabile
A split Schoharie County Board of Supervisors Friday agreed to spend $325,000 to fund engineering, design and legal costs to extend water and sewer lines from the Village of Cobleskill to Howe Caverns.
In a 9-5 vote with two absences, supervisors agreed to take the money from the county’s contingency fund.
Earlier this spring, supervisors debated the possibility of spending the money and at the time, seemed unlikely to do so.
The entire project is expected to cost about $7.8 million, and county officials expect to hear next month whether $2.575 million in grants will be coming from the federal government to help pay for the project. The grant application has been turned down twice before.
The project is seen as a major key in the development of Route 7 as well as the Howe Caverns’ expansion and dinosaur park.
Town of Cobleskill officials last week agreed to put $25,000 toward the engineering, design and legal work.
On Friday, supervisors heard opposing viewpoints from county Treasurer Bill Cherry and Cobleskill Village Mayor Mark Galasso.
Mayor Galasso said the project makes economic sense for the county.
Even if costs rise to $8.5 million and there are no grants, the project could be bonded and the county would have to come up with $500,000 in each of 2013, 2014, and 2015 before revenues begin to make up for the expenses.
The county’s population is aging and the enrollment in areas schools has been decreasing and that trend will continue unless changes are made, Mayor Galasso said.
“Our county is dying,” he said Friday. “The numbers are irrefutable. We must change the way the county does business or we will see the county die on the vine.”
If the county had to borrow $7.9 million over 20 years, he said, the cost would be $645,000 a year if the interest rate was five percent and $600,000 per year if the interest rate is four percent.
The costs, Mayor Galasso said, would be higher than the revenues (additional property and sales tax) only for the first two or three years. The project should be paid off in 11 years, leaving only profit for the remaining life of the pipelines.
“This thing is a slam dunk, no brainer,” he said.
Dan Singletary of Jefferson said the county may not be able to come up with $500,000 a year for the next three years.
“There’s not one iota of a business plan to get us through 2013, 2014, and 2015,” he said.
A risk assessment needs to be done on the project, Mr. Singletary said.
“I’m not willing to take the taxpayer down with me as I jump off a building,” he said.
While it may be true that the Howe Caverns’ project could mean additional property tax revenue for the county, Town of Cobleskill and the Cobleskill-Richmondville school district and more sales tax revenue for the county, it may take years before the taxes come in, Mr. Singletary said.
“The figures are far in the future,” he said.
“How do we afford the beginning?...There’s a gray area here I’m very concerned about.”
The county, Mayor Galasso said, is a prime candidate for debt financing since it is debt-free.
Mr. Cherry spoke against funding the engineering, design and legal work until word comes back on the federal grant from the Economic Development Agency.
He said the county has already committed $2 million to the project, with grant approval, and unless the federal money comes through, the county should not make any further financial commitment.
Waiting “a month or two will not be the end of the world,” he said.
Dennis Richards of Middleburgh said the time is right to move ahead.
“It’s time for us to invest in our county, to make a commitment.”
The $325,000 is part of the $2 million already committed to the project by the county.
Voting against the funding were Larry Bradt of Carlisle, Mike Brandow of Conesville, Sandra Manko of Sharon, Mr. Singletary and Mr. Skowfoe. Bob Mann of Blenheim and Marie Campbell of Broome were absent Friday.
Voting in favor of the motion were Tom Murray of Cobleskill, Earl VanWormer of Esperance, Tony VanGlad of Gilboa, Mr. Richards, Richard Lape of Richmondville, Martin Shrederis of Schoharie, Carl Barbic of Seward, Harold Vroman of Summit and William Goblet of Wright.