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Village of Massena to again discuss changes to fee structure for sewer & water work, no hearing set

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MASSENA - A public hearing to discuss changing the way the village charges property owners for the installation of sewer lines and water laterals will not be held next month.

The creation of a hearing was on the agenda for Tuesday night’s meeting, but trustees instead elected to discuss the matter again next month prior to setting the hearing.

Currently the village charges citizens either $500, $750 or $1,000 depending on the location of the line, but when labor and equipment charges are added Department of Public Works Superintendent Hassan A. Fayad said the average bill ends up being around $1,500.

“A typical bill would be $1,500, but in some instances it goes up, because of the complexity of the work,” he said.

Trustee Timothy J. Ahlfeld said it was discovered that the village can no longer legally charge a flat rate for such work and instead has to charge property owners the actual cost or a percentage of the actual cost of the materials.

Mr. Ahlfeld said the village changed its law on the matter “a couple” years ago.

“If someone was in the village of Massena and they experiences a problem, it’s nice that they don’t get hit with a huge bill,” Mr. Ahlfeld said.

Mr. Fayad suggested charging property owners for 50 percent of the project noting that in many instances that would result in a payment of roughly $750 to the village.

“The 50 percent range would get us close to that flat rate range,” he said.

Trustee Francis J. Carvel questioned the change, noting many other communities in the area charge their residents a flat rate for the same services.

“I contacted all the other municipalities in this area to see how they did and most of the municipalities had a flat rate,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s legal or not, but they had a flat rate.”

And a flat rate is what Mr. Carvel said he would like to see in Massena.

“How can a homeowner plan to go to the bank when they need a new lateral or something if they’re expecting it to be $1,500 and they get a bill for $4,000?” he asked, noting some repairs are the village’s fault anyway.

Mr. Carvel explained that the village could ding or crimp a pipe while working on a main or line or even digging in the area of one.

“A pipe could be crimped and not leak until several years later,” he said, adding by that time no one remembers the work which likely caused the damage in the first place.

“The labor is already paid for. How do we go about charging people for an hourly rate when they’re already paying it in their water bills?” he asked. “It’s double-billing.”

Mr. Fayad replied that he doesn’t see it as double-billing, noting that the labor included in the water and sewer budgets is for maintenance of the village’s water mains and sewer lines, not laterals or lines connected to people’s homes.

Mr. Carvel stressed he had concerns about a system where the property owner does not know what they are paying headed into the project.

“I’m more concerned about the residents than anyone else,” he said. “If someone is expecting to pay $500 and the bill ends up $5,000, that’s a real blow to that person. The right person could end up losing their home over that.”

Ms. Wilson, who was running the meeting in the absence of Mayor James F. Hidy, said the item will again be placed on the agenda for the July 15 meeting.

While the board typically meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month, the board only meets one time in June, July and August.

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