Town moves ahead with improvements for Tamarac water district

by Dan McClelland
Town officials, following a public hearing Thursday night, agreed to move ahead with bond financing for needed improvements in the Tamarac water district (No. 3).  The hearing attracted only two residents of the subdivision near the golf course- one was for the plan and one was against.
In attendance too was Carrie Tuttle, an engineer and district specialist with the Watertown-based Development Authority of the North Country (DANC)  Kevin Feuka of C2AE, an engineering firm from Canton and Eric Gustafson, an attorney from Massena.
An earlier meeting on November 21between district residents, town officials and Ms. Tuttle to explain some of the water pressure improvement planned for the district and residents attended including Paul and Nate Shaheen and Matt Zande, who was again in attendance again Thursday. There was general agreement at the meeting that the improvements- financed in large part through grants- were in the best interests of the residents.
“I received one e-mail since that meeting from Bill McClintock of 32 Tamarac Drive, who wrote that with the poor water pressure that has always plagued the water district on Mt. Morris, he “strongly approves of the town plan.”
Carrie Tuttle gave a short history of the project.  “I started working with the village and town about a year and one half ago, looking for funding to improve water district No. 3.”  She said the village received a grant for $1 million from the New York State Empire State Development Corp.” Following that award was another grant she said of $250,000 from the Northern Border agency.  
For the residentsof Tamarac that would leave $250,000 to cover over the life of a 20- or 30-year bond.
Ms. Tuttle said the grants are conditional on the town bonding for the entire $1.5 million cost of the improvements and then the town wouldbe reimbursed for the $1.25 million in grants.
She said Kevin Feuka “put together the proposal” for the improvements.  There is “a potential” for more grants to lower the residents’ share of $250,000- she added. The cost per EDU (equal dwelling unit) would be a “worst case scenario” of $237 per year.  “And it could go down” if more grant money is found.
She held out the hope the project could be tackled this year, to coincide with the village well project which is due to be completed at year’s end.
Supervisor Patricia Littlefield said that the grants won by the village and town now make it “an ideal opportunity” to move ahead with the much needed water improvements at Tamarac.
Since its creation in the 1970s, residents of the water district have routinely seen poor pressure and a low water supply at times.  A fire department pumper hooking to one of the hydrants there can drain the entire system in minutes.  The water district was designed based on pumps pulling water to the subdivision from the lake and laterthe water mains at Moody.
Mr. Feuka said part of the reason for the grant funding was to create a system that could support further residential expansion on Mt. Morris “to support Big Tupper or anything else that may come there.”
He said the water pressure must be improved to support the existing residents and “to feed” additional arrivals on the mountain.
The engineer and principal in the engineering firmsaid the plan eyed would have “a duel benefit.” It would “beef up the infrastructure and also address the poor pressure, which is not the best for fire protection.”
Some of that work, he said, would include replacing the six-inch water mains there with eight-inch ones for a better supply of water and the addition of more fire hydrants. The Tamarac pump station would be upgraded and a 250,000- gallon storage tank added.
“The new water storage tank could also provide water to the ski lodge or whatever” at Big Tupper, he added.
Attorney Eric Gustafson said the town’s bond resolution would have to be for the entire $1.5 million.  “You have to spend the money to get it back,” he said of the way the grant processes work.
Tamarac resident Lisa Sciacca wasn’t happy with the $237 assessment she and her neighbors were facing.  “As a single homeowner” and someone who is retired, the $237 will hurt.  “Our taxes are already very high.”
The extra $237 in water district fees will be added to the town tax bill the residents would pay in future years.
“The Tupper Lake Country Club is going to really benefit.  What increase will it see compared with my $237?” she asked.
She also wondered what the Adirondack Club Resort or any other development that comes to the mountain above their neighborhood would pay toward the improvement plan.
Mrs. Littlefield told her that the arrival of any residential units in any new development could be “factored into” the financing formula- thereby lowering the contributions of the Tamarac participants.
If the development takes off at Big Tupper, those people may have to pay to jointhe water district, if they don't form their own district, she told Ms. Sciacca.
“Shouldn’t they pay now?” the resident pressed.
“Those parcels (in the ACR) are not part of water district No. 3 right now!” the supervisor told her.
In order to access municipal water, new property owners in the ACR will have to join the district, she added.
“So they will have access to what we paid for?” asked Ms. Sciacca.
They may have to pay atap fee” to join water district No. 3, the supervisor said she suspected.
In answer to Lisa’s question about how much much the golf course will pay in annual fees, Mrs. Littlefield said the facility is considered three EDUs.
“That’s all?” the resident shot back.
Councilman Mike Dechene said he felt the formula assessment was fair, given the fact much of the water used to water greens and fairways is drawn from Cranberry Pond, not the municipal water system.
Lisa Sciacca asked how many new hydrants would be installed as part of the plan and was told six, one every 600 feet of main.
Asked to be specific about their locations by Ms. Sciacca, Mr. Gustafson they don’t know exactly where yet.
Town Attorney Kirk Gagnier explained the way town water and sewer districts work. “Any district can make improvements at any time.  However, if there are no grants, residents will pay the entire cost of the improvements.”
“If the Tamarac residents wanted more hydrants and better water pressure, we’d be having the same conversations. But now there is the possibility of $1.25 million in grant financing.”
Ms. Sciacca said she believed the proposal before the homeowners at Tamarac was “paying for the development at Big Tupper.”
She also noted: “my water pressure is fine.”
The supervisor said this is a great opportunity to make needed improvements in the infrastructure, given its 40-year age, with a lot of grant funding.  “Your pumping system is showing signs of wear and there is no back-up generator” for use in times of power outages.
She said the Tamarac water system was designed for a much smaller development, but Tamarac kept growing over the years.  She said she understood Ms. Sciacca’s concern about the added cost to her water district fees, adding: “but it’s hard to turn down $1.25 million in grant money.”
The supervisor said that if the district incurred a major problem and there wasn’t the grant money to make the repairs, the residents of that subdivision could face some big expenses- and much more than the extra $237 per year they are looking at under this plan.
“By comparison this is a bargain, and it’s also good for future development on the mountain...it’s a win-win,” she added.
Councilwoman Tracy Luton pressed the visitors on their search for more grant money and was told they would continue to look for more- to further reduce the residents’ share.
“Cost-wise, $237 per year is a worst-case scenario,” asserted Mrs. Littlefield.  She called the plan “a truly affordable deal,” given what couldhappen without the grants.
“It sounds like a good idea to me,” was what Matt Zande said that evening, as the discussion wound down.
“We have $1.25 million already and we’re hoping for more,” is what Carrie Tuttle told those assembled in closing.
Ms. Sciacca asked how many in her neighborhood hadbeen heard from and was told about 10.
“There were no negative comments,” Councilman Dechene added.
“Alot of people said they didn’t like the extra cost, but knew the system needs work,” Mrs. Littlefield said of the responses.
“If something major went wrong up there, we’d have to bond the entire thing...so this is a no brainer, asserted Councilman Dechene.
Asked about the number of residents at Tamarac, Ms. Tuttle said there were 35 EDUs- and because some people own more than one lot, probably about 30 families.
“If we would have had 20 or 25 people here tonight saying ‘no’ we wouldn’t proceed with the project,” noted the supervisor.
“I guess I’m going to have to sell my house,” said a disappointed Ms. Sciacca as she left the meeting.
In a brief discussion after the hearing was closed about the bonding arrangements the board voted to do in the regular meeting, Carrie Tuttle said the first bond payment wouldn’t be due until 2018, and the local share would come from the residents on their tax bills next January.
The supervisor agreed there would be “no tax implications.”  Any bills or expenses the town would see for the work to be done would be offset by the grant money revenues in the 2018 town budget.
Mr. Dechene said the improvements were not being done “for the mountain project,” but because they need to be done in the water district.
He speculated that he didn't think there would be “a tapping fee” charged any owners of new houses on the mountain that wanted municipal water.
Kirk Gagnier didn't think so either, saying any mountain development would likely be its own water district and would simply tap onto the municipal water system at the Tamarac district.
Ms. Tuttle said she would haveinter-municipal agreements between the town and village for the water district improvements prepared for the board members consideration at theirFebruary meetings.