February 17, 2012
Project would up Marathon water rates 70 percent
About 50 village residents attend meeting outlining $3.1 million in upgrades to water system
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
A water tank off Grove Street in Marathon will be replaced as part of a $3.1 million water project in the village that will also put in new water lines and improve water pressure in the village.
MARATHON — Village water rates might increase by nearly 70 percent in the next few years to pay for system improvements.
Over 50 village residents showed up to the public information meeting at the Civic Center Thursday night to learn more about a proposed $3.1 million project to improve the village’s water system.
Mayor John Pitman said he was hoping for a large turnout and was pleasantly surprised.
“This is the most people I’ve seen at a village meeting in eight years,” he said. “There was no way we as a board would move forward on a project like this without public input.”
The majority of the project will be funded with a $2.4 million low-interest loan. The village’s aging water main system is in need of eventual repairs, project engineers said, which means rates will go up either way.
If the project goes forward, water rates will rise an estimated 68 percent.
The current rate is $5.64 per 1,000 gallons for village residents and $7.33 for the few town customers that are hooked on to the village water main.
The increase would give Marathon one of the highest water rates in Cortland County, village residents would pay $9.48 per 1,000 gallons and the outside rate would go up to $12.32.
The project may also encourage future development in the village. Right now, several undeveloped tracts of land on the outskirts of the village do not have access to water mains. That might deter any possible developers looking to build houses, Pitman said.
Two engineers from Clough Harbour and Associates, an Albany-based engineering firm, gave an hour-long presentation on the various aspects of the project and the projected costs.
The costs and who would benefit the most from the project seemed to be the issues that most concerned some village residents.
Brian Parker raised concerns over how much current village residents would actually benefit from the project.
“They’re basing it off of projected need,” he said. “It was a top-notch presentation but I’ve lived in this village for 59 years and I haven’t seen it grow. I don’t know if it’ll grow in the next 50 years. “
Originally the village was going to pay for the project with a $2.1 million stimulus grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a $719,000 loan. The grant never materialized and when the village asked again, the funding rules had changed, Senior Engineer Vern Ingraham told the crowd
“The most the USDA can give a municipality for a project now is $750,000,” he said.
Now the funding picture is flipped. Along with the $2.4 million loan, the village is receiving a $750,000 grant.
Water issues have been a problem in Marathon for decades.
The state Department of Health forced the village to stop using a spring in the 1970s because of soil run-off, the next well it used had too much salt, the third eventually tested positive for cryptosporidium and a benzene leak from a fuel tank contaminated the fourth water source.
In 2002, the next well tested positive for manganese from a nearby pond. Now the village uses a combination of three wells, all located in the southern end of the village and is still paying off the debt from drilling those wells.
A combination of aging water mains, insufficient pumping power, elevation changes and the location of the three wells have created water problems for village residents.
Along Mara Lane, residents have complained of low water pressure, while on Galatia Street there are complaints of dirty water and service interruption. On Bradford and Jay Streets there are problems with low flow.
The proposed project will demolish the aging water tank on Grove Street and replace it with another tank at a higher elevation. It would also add a booster pump and three pressure release valves. A third portion will lay new pipelines, providing better pressure and cleaner service to the problematic areas.
If the village decides not to do the project now, it will still end up paying for part of it eventually and there is no guarantee of a government grant or low-interest loan, Ingraham said.
The Grove Street water tank is aging and when it is replaced IT will likely cost close to $1 million itself, he said.
That repair alone will likely raise water rates around 18 percent.
After a question-and-answer session, Pitman asked for a show of hands to decide whether the Village Board should schedule a public hearing on the project.
The number of residents in favor of moving forward with the project easily outnumbered those against it.
There is no set date for the public hearing but it will likely happen at one of the Village Board meetings in March, Pitman said.
The village must decide either way on the project in the next month or so, or it will lose the federal funding.
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