YORKTOWN, N.Y. – For the last year, the town board has announced the creation of a “master plan,” to remedy the town’s widespread sewer issues. As the plan develops, the board has begun sharing more of its vision.
In addition to the aging pump stations that move the sewage along through the system, hundreds of residents remain unconnected to the sewer system, and the septic tanks they rely on are failing.
Put on hold for almost three decades due to state regulations, the conversation to connect new homes to the system was revived when the 27-year moratorium was lifted in 2015. With the option available again, residents have been asking how the town plans to connect homes to the system, which homes it intends to connect, and how funding the project will affect taxpayers.
Without solid commitments from residents, town officials can only cast projections at this point, Grace said during a public presentation, which he referred to as a “broad strokes view” into the town’s plan, earlier this month. One thing he did confidently say, however, was that costs will be too prohibitive for individual homes to connect without the contribution of those who are already hooked up to the town’s sewer system.
But residents want to know why the approximately 4,000 homeowners in question should pay for new hookups if they are already connected to the sewers. The answer provided by Grace was twofold. To help residents understand, Grace took residents back to more than 30 years ago, prior to the moratorium, and prior even to the existence of many of the sewered homes in question. Laying down the history of the plant and many of the home transport connection to it, gave the audience the context needed to understand Grace’s suggested plan for the future.
Repeatedly, Grace referred to the town’s sewer system as “collection infrastructure.” If residents consider their most intimate connection to the sewer system, the toilet, as a small-scale representation of the town’s system, then the concept of “what goes in must come out,” is understood.
However, after the tubes and pump stations collect what’s put into the system, a treatment facility such as the Hallocks Mill plant doesn’t have a shiny porcelain vessel to empty the processed materials back into, and the state regulates the output of those facilities to protect the environment. Just as a toilet can only handle so much capacity, too much can overwhelm a sewage treatment facility, and in turn the environment around it.
In the late 1970s, Grace said a special taxing district (District 39) was created to fund construction that would increase the capacity of the Hallocks Mill plant, thus enabling it to accommodate “the collection” from more homes. However, the costs of labor and the initial connection to the system remained, so many residents didn’t hook up right away.
As the town developed, homes and buildings that were in a different taxing district (District 91), one that was not involved in the expansion of the plant, were connected to the system in the meantime, Grace explained. Many were able to do so because developers covered the costs of sewer connections. They used up the capacity before the initially taxed group was able to connect, and then the state put regulations on the plant to avoid too much discharge into the environment and no other homes were allowed to be added for 27 years.
The foundation of Grace’s plan is the argument that everyone who currently uses the sewer system is taking advantage of the investment made by those who were ultimately unable to connect. Now, it’s time to return the favor, he said.
The total cost of the project is anticipated to be $18 million, Grace said. The $10 million set aside to the municipality for water improvement projects will likely be used, Grace said; however, it is undecided how it will be distributed at this point. He also said at the May 16 televised meeting that there are grants available for this type of project and that the initiative Yorktown has already taken by improving pump stations and carving out a plan might give Yorktown a competitive edge against other municipalities.
With subsidies to assist in the costs of the initial hook-up, and contribution from both taxing districts, Grace said the cost to existing sewer users will increase by $61 a year, and those that will be connecting will pay $600 annually. Currently, those sewered pay about $557 annually in operations and maintenance costs. Grace said that with an additional 450 homes on board, that cost will drop by about $50 annually as more people come on board.
In an analogy comparing a lawyer becoming a partner in a firm, Grace said, “You’ve got to buy into the equity that was paid by the old partners.”
Not all residents agree.
Former supervisor Susan Siegel owns a home in District 91. She is connected to the sewers; however, her home already existed at the time many new developments were connected to the sewers free of charge. As a member of that district, her home was connected to the sewer system; however, she had to pay for the installation of the pipes that connected her home to the main lines of the system.
“How many already-sewered homeowners paid for both the plant expansion and their lateral sewer lines?” Siegel wrote in an op-ed piece earlier this month. “I did, for 25-plus years, along with hundreds of other homeowners in my sewer extension district. How many other homeowners paid both costs as part of the cost of their new house?”
She argued that those residents shouldn’t be asked to cover additional costs. She also questioned the legality of charging 4,000 tax payers for a capital project that would benefit 450.
“Many of these homeowners spent 30 years paying off the cost of their sewers and want to know why they are now being asked to pay for another 30 years for someone else’s sewers,” she said.
The town argues that the benefits of getting new homes on board would be far-reaching. In a May 11 press release, the town announced the decision to begin soliciting proposals from engineers for sewer designs.
“The development of new sewer infrastructure will dramatically improve local home values, nurture potential business expansions, and allow the town to address the significant environmental concerns associated with old and failing septic systems,” the release read.
Other topics of discussion
Aside from cost, many residents wanted to know if their neighborhoods are included in the town’s projections. During the presentation, several neighborhoods were listed; however, the smaller streets within them were not, which caused many residents to voice their confusion.
“If you’re un-sewered in the Hallocks Mill [district], more than likely, you are part of [District] 39,” Grace said.
He stressed that neighborhoods under consideration for sewer hook-ups are prioritized based on most immediate need structurally and also based on resident interest.
“I’m going to want feedback from everybody, as much as I can get,” Grace said. He encouraged residents to call his office with questions and concerns.
Other topics of discussion were the calculated costs based on outflow for specific neighborhoods, as well as how the town’s pledge to repair the aging pump stations has played a role in pushing the town’s overall plan forward.
To see if your neighborhood was included in the breakdown, or to learn more, visit yorktownny.org/townboard/meeting-videos and watch the video dated May 2.