Water meters will be updated

It won¡¯t happen right away but city of Dunkirk water customers will see a change in the way their meters are read.

The first step in what will be a lengthy process to update the city¡¯s water meters was officially taken as the Common Council passed a resolution that authorizes Mayor Richard Frey to go ahead with the program¡¯s financing. According to 34-2009, the project won¡¯t exceed $1.3 million and the mayor is directed to use the best funding method available at the time final papers are signed.

After the council meeting Frey was asked about the time frame for the systemwide meter installation project. Both the mayor and City Treasurer Mark Woods felt a direction for the funding will be made in the next 30 days.

"This is what the resolution is saying tonight, we have the option," Frey said. "If leasing is the best way to go, we¡¯re going to lease. And if it¡¯s not, if we have to bond, the interest rates are the lowest that way, that¡¯s the route we¡¯re going and this is what the council gave us approval for tonight.

"I would hope to see the project start maybe in August or September and it¡¯s a year, year and a half long. ... It¡¯s going to take the finance and treasury office maybe another six months on top of that to get all the kinks ironed out of the formulation and the automatic readings and stuff like that."

The mayor was asked if stimulus funding could be found for the meter project.

"We¡¯re still working every day. We met this afternoon on a couple of other issues with the county executive and his staff on a couple issues here at our water plant and our tax problems that we¡¯re having with the county and the foreclosure situation," Frey said. "We had a good meeting this afternoon. It was very cordial on everybody¡¯s part and I know I have a partner in the county because they¡¯re out there trying to get us money as much as we are too. Mark (Woods) is working on a daily basis. He¡¯s turning every rock we can find to get us a dollar if we can get it."

Frey said he didn¡¯t think the state Senate situation was holding up stimulus funding.

"I think we were talking this afternoon and our water project in the city could be $15-17 million in size. But the whole stimulus for New York state water projects is $90 million. I mean I don¡¯t think we¡¯re seeing a lot of stuff slide to Western New York at this point, nothing big anyways," Frey said. "We might have to go beyond that into the state funding or into our federal funding. Use our congressman, Congressman Higgins has been a great partner of ours and we have to get maybe on to Senator Schumer and get him here and let him see how critical we are."

Frey was asked if any leftover funding needs for the water treatment plant would be covered by increasing rates for users of the system.

"I don¡¯t have that answer right now," he said. "You know an awful lot depends, and this is where we had kind of put at the table today, let us get the water meter project done. Let us see what water lossage we can pick up and we may have enough revenue to start putting some capital investment in. That¡¯s what we tried to put on the table.

"I don¡¯t think they¡¯re going to let us wait too long though. They¡¯re going to want a time line."

The mayor was asked what the next step was with the foreclosure issue.

"We don¡¯t know yet. I think we all got on the same page today, I think that was it," he said. "I think we know we need to make an agreement that¡¯s something that¡¯s not for yesterday, or today, but for down the road is what we have to look at. Beyond 2010."

According to the mayor, the talks included County Executive Greg Edwards, County Attorney Steve Abdella and a large contingent of city officials. Frey said County Legislature Chairman Keith Ahlstrom was also in attendance, "because he¡¯s so vital to the whole movement of this thing."

Frey said Edwards had mentioned at the meeting that talks were going on with Jamestown officials as well.

"Can it be something both of us can live with? We don¡¯t know that," Frey said. "It might have to be two separate agreements, Actually three. One for Jamestown, one for Dunkirk and one, they have their obligation with the towns and villages. So I guess we¡¯ll just have to wait and see.

"We¡¯re trying to get it moving ... but we have so many irons in the fire, so much on our plates right now. All of them are so critical, that¡¯s the thing. Our water plant and our seawall in the First Ward and our stimulus money, our paving program and just we¡¯ve got a lot of tired equipment in the city."

Councilman-at-Large James Muscato also attended the meeting with county officials and was asked for his take on the situation.

"I think it¡¯s something that needs to be handled through negotiations and it was stated that way in the meeting. I don¡¯t think anybody¡¯s trying to hang anybody," he said. "It happened. We inquired about figures and that. They¡¯re going to accommodate us I believe, but the main thing is they rescinded their resolution. It will be done at the end of this year and in that time period they want to sit down with everybody and continue it, but to make sure that everybody understands that everybody has a share in the gains and losses."

Muscato said a level playing field was the goal.

"If there¡¯s a gain then we should benefit from the gain. If there¡¯s a loss then we¡¯ve got to pay our part of it. The county incurred a loss when you bring it down to the actual value of the properties, I don¡¯t think it was as great as they put it in the paper but it was still a loss and the taxpayers, one way or the other, got to pick it up anyway," he said. "I think if the agreement is redrawn and everybody¡¯s on board and everybody is cooperating with what the agreement says, then I think it¡¯s a doable agreement."

Muscato said the city would have to hire additional staff if the old method was used.

"Hopefully it can be worked out and kept on this basis. If you want to get technical about it, you talk about consolidation of services, this is one that should work if it¡¯s followed to the ¡¯T¡¯ and I think everybody¡¯s in agreement on that," he said. "We just have to come up and make sure that everybody understands what this agreement is and that it¡¯s not going to hurt one side or the other."

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