'Permissive referendum' sets stage for public vote on Town of Darien Water District No. 6
More than two years have passed since the Darien Town Board conducted informational meetings on a proposed Water District No. 6, a multimillion dollar project that would supply public water to about two-thirds of the town’s population at a yearly cost of around $1,300 per household.
Not much has happened to move this plan closer to its logical conclusion – yes or no – until Dec. 17, 2018 when the board passed a “permissive resolution” intended to set up a ballot vote, Town Supervisor David Hagelberger said this afternoon.
“We held a public hearing on that date and afterwards, the town board voted for the permissive referendum in an effort to get a decision, either ‘yes’ you want it or ‘no’ you don’t,” Hagelberger said. “We’re (the board) not opposed to an election. Whatever the community wants (is what we want). We need to resolve this and this is a way to do it.”
As a matter of background, the town board proposed the water district to the 2,095 town residents who currently have well water. The annual cost for each household was set at $1,275 – and it remains at that level – with $914 going toward the project’s debt distribution and $361 for water supply, operations and maintenance costs.
While the price per family did not increase, the total project price tag has gone up (due to interest rate and construction cost increases) from $24.8 million to $25.25 million, and the amount of a USDA grant being sought has risen from $6.8 million to $10.82 million, Hagelberger said.
Additionally, residents were informed that costs of the initial connection, such as meter charges, account setup fees, service lines to the residence, and well abandonment and/or separation fees, would be at least $2,000.
Following the fall 2016 informational meetings, petitions were circulated to gauge town residents’ feelings on the issue, and about 400 signatures in support of the project were received. But things weren’t moving fast enough, Hagelberger said, and he and the town board “feared that this opportunity could be lost as costs continue to rise.”
That’s where the permissive referendum that calls for the creation of the water district comes in.
“The law allows us to pass this measure to force an election,” Hagelberger said, noting that another petition containing at least 100 signatures or 5 percent of residents in the water district, whatever is lower, would be needed to counteract the board’s vote and force a by-the-people election.
Hagelberger said that has been achieved – a petition of 406 signatures was turned into the Town Office on Jan. 15 – and an election must be conducted within 60 to 75 days.
“One hitch that has arisen is that we (town board) may have to pass the referendum again due to a technicality, so the window may be reset,” he said. “So, the election likely will be in March or April. We want to get this done as soon as possible.”
The fact that the project is being put to a vote sits well with Tinkham Road resident Fred Kochmanski, who was part of a small coalition of town residents who are against it but, more importantly, wanted the public to have the chance to have a direct input.
“We should have an opportunity for the people to vote; that’s the American way,” Kochmanski said.
He said that although he currently gets water through the municipality of Akron (and is happy with it), he would be forced to change providers if the vote is in favor of Water District No. 6.
“We’ve been told that there are 17 people having issues of water shortages, but there are 800 parcels in the (proposed) district,” he said. “It’s a case of the tail wagging the dog.”
Hagelberger said he remains neutral, but fears that if the measure is defeated, the town may be “left out” of getting water in the future.
“If you’ve noticed, a lot of municipalities have been getting public water lately, so we’re not sure what’s going to happen down the road with Genesee County,” he said. “The board believes this is in the best interest of the community but realizes that maybe not for each individual resident.”
Should residents vote in favor of the project, it would take about three years for construction to be complete.