MAHOPAC, N.Y. - The town of Carmel is home to eight sewer districts and 13 water districts. Many of them are growing old with some in dire need of repairs or upgrades, as is illustrated by the multi-million-dollar capital improvement project that Water District No. 2 is about to undergo.
So many districts with myriad assets can be difficult to get a handle on with all the moving parts as town officials seek to sensibly plan out repairs and renovation while looking at the big picture and trying to keep the costs at manageable levels.
But now, thanks to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Asset Management Pilot Program, the town of Carmel may soon be able to do just that. Town Board members got a closer look at the program during a meeting last month.
After applying to be part of the pilot program several years ago, along with 80 other municipalities, the town found out last year that it was one of the 10 towns or counties chosen. And it was because of those many independent sewer and water districts that got them on the list.
“Carmel was chosen in order to have a municipality [in the program] that has many sewer districts,” said Lauren Livermore, P.E., project manager from Barton & Loguidice in Syracuse, the town’s consultant on the project. “It leads to a lot of different and unique features and how the sewer system is paid for. So, it was really important for the DEC to have the town of Carmel in the pilot program.”
Town engineer Rich Franzetti agreed—he said it was the town’s distinctiveness that caught the eye of the DEC.
“We have eight districts and five sewage treatment facilities. That was part of the uniqueness that the state was looking for,” he said. “We have these hydraulically disconnected systems. Another thing that makes us unique is we are in the DEP watershed, which has its own separate rules and regulations.”
Franzetti said the town wanted to be part of the pilot program in order to “get a better handle on our assets, a better understanding so that we can plan for the future and be proactive instead of reactive.”
The pilot program lays out a plan to ensure the town is taking care of the infrastructure assets in the most efficient way possible, including:
• Effective information transfer and knowledge retention
• Rigorous and defensible decision-making
• Improved coordination and communication
• Improved public confidence
• Lower cost of owning and maintaining infrastructure
The program’s asset management provides town officials with knowledge of:
• Levels of service
• Assets and their characteristics
• Physical condition of assets
• Asset performance
• Total cost of ownership
And the ability to:
• Optimize operation and maintenance
• Assess asset risk
• Identify risk management strategies
• Prioritize options to fund infrastructure
• Predict future demands
• Effectively manage information and employ decision-making tools
Of the town’s eight sewer districts, four were chosen to be part of the pilot programs—districts 4-7.
“The ultimate goal of the pilot program is to improve the DEC’s municipal sewage system asset-management guide that was put out in 2015, as well as create templates and documents for municipalities all across the state to use in the future,” Livermore told the Town Board during a presentation at its Oct. 23 meeting. “You guys are at the forefront of everything.”
The pilot program comes at no cost to the town and includes asset inventory, updated GIS mapping, an asset criticality analysis, sewer rate study, capital improvement plan, long-term funding strategy, asset management plan document.
“You will be able to prioritize the replacement and repair of assets with the budget you have available,” Livermore said. “To maintain current levels of service, [DEC} did a sewer rate study, which recommends increasing [tax] rates when needed to cover projected capital projects and to maintain the working capital reserve fund.”
But Livermore noted that the tax rate should remain 2 percent under a town’s median household income
“The town of Carmel never reaches that 2 percent, the [districts] are all under,” she said. “This is one of the reasons you applied for the pilot program—to obtain these lower affordability indexes for your residents so they can afford these fees.”
Supervisor Ken Schmitt said he was pleased with the program, and town officials noted that being part of it saved the town about $200,000.
“Now we have a blueprint, a snapshot of what our equipment is, what needs to be replaced early on rather than waiting,” he said. “Now, we have indicators of when that needs to take place.”
Schmitt said that in the coming months the Town Board will hold a presentation from the engineering department on the four remaining sewer districts and 13 water districts that weren’t part of the pilot program analysis. Franzetti said the town put out requests for proposals (RFPs) for those remaining districts and the results will be part of that presentation.