MAHOPAC, N.Y. - Town officials expressed concern last week over the town’s aging infrastructure and the amount of money needed to make repairs to keep water and sewer districts operating properly.
At a Town Board meeting earlier this month, comptroller Mary Ann Maxwell said that the town would need to transfer about $80,000 from special district fund balances to cover the cost of repairs in three water districts and two sewer districts.
“The transfers this year were extensive,” Maxwell told the board. “I am a little concerned about that because our fund balances have been depleted in a lot in the water and sewer districts. It’s something we really have to keep an eye on.”
Maxwell cited several examples. In Water District 10, the town had to transfer $9,000 from its fund balance. In Water District 13, it was $9,500. Sewer District 6 saw $10,000 transferred.
“There is just not enough money in those districts’ expense lines [to cover the costs],” she said. “Sewer District 4 always had a very healthy fund balance, and now it’s down to just $30,000, so we are transferring $4,500 of it.”
Maxwell said the town always monitors the general fund’s fund balance—which has remained healthy and garnered accolades from auditors—but said she was “a little concerned about the water and sewer districts.”
“It’s emergency repairs, it’s equipment that’s failing,” she said. “I am not saying we can’t do these things that are necessary but a big part of our [tax] levy increase this year was in the districts and now we are pulling money from the fund balances because of all the repairs we are continuing to have to do.”
Maxwell said that the overall tax rate for the town decreased by nearly 4 percent, but residents who live in some of the special districts might actually see a tax increase because of these issues.
Supervisor Ken Schmitt wondered if the transfers were an anomaly or if it was something the town would continually have to address moving forward.
“This is an unusual year. Part of it has to do with the prevailing wage,” said town engineer Rich Franzetti. “I think that is where we are getting hit the most.”
“Prevailing wage” refers to state Department of Labor requirements for contractors and what they have to pay their employees. Those rising costs are passed on to municipalities.
“But we do have older infrastructure,” Franzetti noted. “Our systems are older.”
Last year, the town signed on to an asset-management program, which officials feel will help the town be more proactive and help manage repairs and upgrades in a more efficient manner.
“Part of the assessment-management program we are in is to identify [these problems] and start planning and go from there,” Franzetti said. “But yes, we have systems that just need TLC in the grand scheme of things.”
Maxwell said that more money was budgeted to the sewer and water districts’ expense lines for the 2021 budget in anticipation of such problems.
“For the 2021 budget, hopefully we won’t be pulling money and doing these transfers,” she said. “We should be budgeting money in your equipment lines and your chemical lines, so you don’t have to do these transfers. We did take a good look at that this year for the 2021 budget.”
Schmitt said it was important to do that.
“Our infrastructure is aging; we all know that, and things are going to go. Equipment is going to fail,” he said. “I am wondering If we are funding enough money in these districts to cover the costs.”
Maxwell said the town will get back some of the emergency repair money through insurance and via FEMA claims.
“I’ve just never seen us have this many transfers before,” she said.