One of these days, Oakfield's 96-year-old water tower could just simply burst open.
Everybody agrees, it needs to be replaced, and soon.
Village officials have been working toward that goal, but recent events have created a quagmire that had about 40 residents packing the village hall Monday night to sound off about how the situation is being handled.
At its March 14 meeting, the village board approved a purchase offer on a 10-acre parcel off Coe Avenue as a location for a new water tower.
That purchase has sparked accusations of secret meetings, overpayment for the property, poor legal advice and concern that the village board is heading in a direction that will cost village rate payers and taxpayers a lot more money in years to come.
"This would not have happened on my watch," said former Oakfield mayor and current county Legislator Ray Cianfrini, looking directly at Oakfield Mayor Rick Pastecki. "You did not do your due diligence. You owe it to the community to do your due diligence when you take on a project of this magnitude."
Pastecki opened the meeting with a written statement explaining the events of the past five weeks.
Problems started, he said, when the village learned that the Town of Oakfield said it would not take title to a piece of property next to Oakfield-Alabama Central School, owned by Lamb Farms, for a new water tower.
The village would have to take title. And if it did, village attorney David DiMatteo informed the board, the Town of Oakfield could levy taxes against the property, and so could the county and the school district.
Those taxes, on a water tower worth more than $1 million, could exceed $37,000 annually.
Near the end of the meeting, Pastecki pointed to the City of Batavia's Country Mall as an example of bad decisions that leave people in the future shaking their heads, wondering, "What were they thinking?"
"What we have done, we have done in good faith, trying to avoid any tax liability that we have no control over," Pastecki said. "We didn't want to add that burden in addition to the burden of water rates going up."
Several times, Pastecki emphasized that he's really concerned about what the school district might do in regard to taxes, because schools are increasingly desperate for revenue.
With the fear of high taxes -- and the prospect of losing a $600,000 state grant if a tower location was not quickly identified -- the board voted, following a closed session, to purchase the Coe Avenue property for $139,000.
The real estate deal has set people off. It feeds a perception in the community that the purchase was made in secret. Also, some residents question the parcel's suitability for erecting a new water tower: because of potential environmental problems there; the specter of it being an eyesore; and its distance from any foreseeable growth in Oakfield's population.
Several residents, including real estate investor Jeremy Yasses, said the village overpaid for the property.
The assessed value is $79,000 and some village residents spoke about a local nonprofit group that once had a purchase offer in place for the property for less than that amount, but the deal fell through.
"We know what that purchase price was," Yasses said, "and it wasn't $139,000."
He estimated the village overpaid by about $100,000 and questioned whether the village would ever be able to get its money back if the tower isn't built there.
The village attorney was not at the meeting. According to Pastecki, DiMatteo made only one offer for the property, $139,000, and it was accepted.
The purchase agreement includes no contingencies that would allow the village to get out of the purchase if the tower cannot be built at that location.
Pastecki said nobody considered it necessary to include contingencies.
"That's where we're going to put the water tower," Pastecki said.
The land, however, has an old residence on it that may contain asbestos. The site is landlocked and there are questions about accessibility. There used to be a greenhouse on it, whose proprietors may have left behind a buried fuel tank.
And while Pastecki said U.S. Gypsum's old underground mine shafts don't extend that far west, Cianfrini said he isn't so sure (after U.S. Gypsum shut down in Oakfield, the village acquired mine maps, Cianfrini said after the meeting, but it isn't clear if the maps are 100-percent accurate).
"I think you bought a pig in a poke," Cianfrini said. "You really don't know what you've got here."
Yasses and others said the the village board got bad advice from its attorney on the purchase.
"He should either resign or be fired," Yasses said.
At a previous meeting, Town of Batavia Engineer Steve Mountain spoke to the board about the possibility of extending a 12-inch public water line up Route 63 into the village.
Such a line would meet the current water needs of the village and handle growth for up to 1,000 more people.
Even so, Mountain said, apparently, the village would still need to build a water tower at some point.
Pastecki said that statement is what convinced the board to move forward with purchase of the Coe Avenue property. And with the cost of steel going up, it didn't make sense to wait to build a water tower.
But board members also admitted that they weren't really clear on what Mountain meant by the statement that a 12-inch line would meet current village needs, be less expensive and handle modest population growth.
There has long been discussion about the Town of Alabama buying water from the village, but Alabama has backed away from helping to pay for a water tower.
A Coe Avenue site wouldn't have enough capacity to meet the needs of both communities, nor would a 12-inch public water line extension.
So if neither is wholly suitable, why not just go with the less expensive water line? This question was first raised by Town of Oakfield Board Member Mike Cianfrini. But it wasn't really dealt with until near the end of the meeting when it was revisited by Kevin Skelton.
"We need to take care of the immediate problem," Skelton said. "If we think there will be considerable growth around here, then we should think about a plan for the future. For now, we should find the quickest way to solve the problem."
Pastecki said the board will consider everything people at the meeting had to say about the issue and review its options again.