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Town of Darien

March 1, 2019 - 1:41pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Town of Darien.

Barring any unforeseen roadblocks, owners of property located in the Town of Darien’s proposed Water District No. 6 will have their chance to vote in mid-April on a $25 million public water project.

Town Supervisor David Hagelberger, speaking by telephone this afternoon, said a paper ballot election will be run by town employees on or around April 10, likely between noon and 8 p.m., at the Town Hall.

“This election will decide whether this water district will go through,” Hagelberger said, adding that the exact date is expected to be announced at the Town Board’s next meeting at 7:30 p.m. March 6.

Several weeks ago it was reported on The Batavian that a “permissive referendum” – where residents in the proposed district were compelled to get enough signatures to force a vote – would be the guiding force for action.

That fell through, however, Hagelberger said, due to the fact that certain parameters of the referendum were not published in the allowed time limit.

“The residents did get enough signatures to force a vote, and we were going to do that anyway,” Hagelberger said. “In effect, the timing issue is moot. The mandatory referendum in April is set up for property owners to come in and vote.”

The supervisor said there are about 1,400 possible voters considering that people who own multiple properties only get one vote. Citizens representing a business, a church in the district and the cemetery association also get one vote.

“There are no absentee ballots either,” Hagelberger said. “Property owners have to be there to have their votes count.”

Hagelberger said the town board reported at its last meeting that the Genesee County Board of Elections will not be running the election due to constraints in state law.

“We were told that we have to run it and we’re doing what needs to be done,” he said. “There’s a lot of work going on right now that most people don’t realize.”

He said the town is working with the assessor and county clerk’s office to review property deeds to determine the correct number of property owners. The town also has to pay election inspectors, for books for people to sign and to build the property owner list.

The estimated cost to the town will be several thousand dollars, Hagelberger said.

The proposal to supply public water to an estimated 2.095 residents (two-thirds of the town’s population) comes with an annual cost of $1,275 per household -- $914 to cover the project’s debt distribution and $361 to cover water supply, operations and maintenance costs.

Due to increasing construction costs and interest rates, the project’s total price tag has gone up from $24.8 million to $25.25 million. The town is pursuing a $10.82 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to defray some of the cost.

Upfront costs to property owners, estimated at $2,000 for each parcel, will be required to pay for meter changes, account setup fees, service lines and well abandonment and/or separation fees.

The proposal to create the water district was presented initially in the fall of 2016 via a couple public meetings.

January 25, 2019 - 6:11pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, 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.

September 13, 2018 - 6:19pm

If Genesee County cuts out or reduces the amount of sales tax revenue it distributes to its towns and villages, it likely will result in increased property taxes to those living in those communities.

That’s the view of Darien Town Supervisor David Hagelberger as he keeps a watchful eye on the situation while representing the Genesee Association of Municipalities on a committee working with Genesee County and City of Batavia leaders.

“Towns and villages are saying that if the county keeps all of the sales tax money, they would have no alternative but to raise local taxes to compensate,” Hagelberger said today. “If the county keeps all of it, you will see an increase in property taxes, slashing of services, depletion of fund balances or a combination thereof.”

Hagelberger said he is concerned over a couple of key issues:

-- That a new sales tax agreement between Genesee County and the City of Batavia does not include towns and villages – unlike the previous agreement that expires at the end of 2018;

-- That the County Legislature has indicated that it will forge separate agreements with the towns and villages based on a fixed dollar amount – and not a percentage that previously applied.

On Monday night, the Batavia City Council moved to vote on its agreement with the county at its next meeting on Sept. 24.

The new 40-year agreement calls for the city to receive its current 16 percent of the county’s share (Genesee County gets to keep half of the 8 percent sales tax, with the rest going to the state) through this year with provisions for that amount to grow in future years by a maximum of 2 percent per year.

If future sales tax growth exceeds 2 percent annually, the county will retain the amount above 2 percent, resulting in the city’s overall percentage share changing even though the city received additional funds. In any event, the City’s share will be no less than 14 percent for the remainder of the 40-year contract.

Meanwhile, towns and villages, which currently split 34 percent of the county’s share based on full taxable value of real property, are left out in the cold going forward, said Hagelberger, who reported that legislators on Wednesday night tabled voting on the agreement with the City of Batavia based on new information from the State Comptroller’s office.

“We have learned that the county has decided not to include us in the sales tax agreement, but will be replacing that with ‘Payment Distribution Agreements’ with the individual towns and villages,” he said. “Their proposal caps the sales tax distribution at the 2018 number – a fixed dollar amount and not a fixed percentage as in the past.”

What this means, according to Hagelberger, is that towns and villages would get the same dollar amount as they received in 2018 for the next 40 years. In the Town of Darien's case, for example, he projects sales tax revenue to exceed $1 million for this year.

“And we all know what happens with inflation and fixed incomes,” he said. “This is not good for towns and villages.”

County Manager Jay Gsell confirmed that the county is offering a fixed amount to towns and villages -- instead of a percentage – via what he termed a “Revenue Distribution Agreement.”

“The county is looking at building a new jail and spending $120 million on bridges and roads,” Gsell said. “Genesee is one of three counties in the state, by virtue of a 1938 statute, totally responsible for the maintenance, upkeep and replacements of bridges and culverts – anything going over a body of water that a vehicle can drive over.”

Gsell acknowledged that towns and villages may have to look at other revenue streams.

“Darien and Pembroke, for example, have zero town tax rates,” he said. “They have been budgeting a lion’s share through sales tax revenue.”

He also said the legislature is prepared to act on its agreement with the City of Batavia at its Sept. 26 meeting, noting that a procedural point brought up by the State Comptroller’s office forced the board to table it last night.

Hagelberger said that town supervisors are under a time crunch to submit their preliminary budgets later this month – fiscal plans that include property tax projections.

“We may not know in enough time to properly work up a budget. We have no guarantee if revenue from sales tax will go into the budget. It creates a lot of uncertainty,” he said, adding that any sales tax contract has to be approved by the State Comptroller’s office and that could impact the accuracy of final budgets which need to be completed by Nov. 28.

Hagelberger said he hopes the county will “clarify its position” soon and expects the issue to be a major part of the next GAM meeting on Sept. 20 at Genesee County Building 2 on West Main Street Road.

November 3, 2016 - 2:15pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Town of Darien.

The Darien Town Board on Wednesday night approved a $3 million preliminary budget that keeps tax rates for its sewer and water districts in check and also renewed a contract with the Darien Chemical Volunteer Fire Company that keeps the tax rate the same as last year.

"I'm pleased to say that we will not need a public hearing to override the tax cap," Supervisor David Hagelberger said as about a dozen people looked on at the Town Hall. "The tax rate for fire protection will be held to this year's cap adjusted value of .68 percent."

Town residents will pay $1.05 per $1,000 of assessed valuation ($105 per year on a home assessed at $100,000) per terms of the $267,713 one-year pact with the fire company.  The town is obligated to pay $253,160 to the fire company by March 15. The additional $14,553 will be derived from revenues generated by Genesee County's revamping of its workers compensation program from assessment based to employee based.

Once again, there is no town tax in the general fund or the highway fund, while taxes to residents in the sewer district and various water districts either remain the same or decrease for 2017.

In sewer district No. 1, which takes in the hamlet of Darien Center, the levy is $395 per unit -- down 1.8 percent from last year.

In water district No. 3, the rate is $1.60 per $1,000 of assessed valuation -- down 9 percent -- and in water district No. 5, the rate is $284 per unit -- down 11 percent, Hagelberger said.

All told, the budget is $3,057,479, with the town contributing $539,249 from its unexpended fund balance and the residents contributing $346,857 hrough taxes.

"Last year, we used $4,000 short of $800,000 to put on a highway garage addition, wilth four new bays," the supervisor said. "Even with this year's amount, we're OK, having about $1.9 million in reserves (accumulated through savings and sales tax surplus)."

Hagelberger said Darien, like most towns and villages, is "heavily dependent upon sharing sales tax revenue with Genesee County" -- funds that enable the town to operate.  

The budget reflects minimal (1-2 percent) increases to elected officials.  The highest paid is the full-time highway superintendent at $58,687, one of seven full-time town employees who receive health insurance through the town.

On another front, Hagelberger reported that 482 of 869 postcards sent out by the town to gauge the community's feelings about a proposed new water district have been returned. The early results show that most property owners are against the measure.

Thus far, the tally has 294 opposed, 183 in favor, five undecided and 387 not yet returned.

While 60 percent of the cards returned reflect opposition to the water district -- which would cost property owners around $1,275 annually in debt service and water usage -- Hagelberger said it's too early to make a valid determination of the outcome.

"We're still collecting information from property owners," he said, adding that the board doesn't want to put a deadline on returning the postcards. "It's not a vote. The real purpose is to find out if we should proceed or not. If we had a tremendous amount opposed, we wouldn't proceed. If we had a lot for it, then we would. Right now, I would say it's a mixture."

He did acknowledge that a town resident, Trina Goodman, is circulating a petition seeking signatures from those opposed to creating the water district. The project to deliver public water to those who currently have wells calls for taking out an $18 million loan for 38 years to cover the debt service, with the overall cost being reduced by a $6.8 million grant from U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development.

"She has the right to circulate the petition, but I don't see how that provides any more information than we will get from the postcards," he said.

Goodman contends that the project is "simply too expensive" and that Genesee County could be putting pressure on the town to make this happen, which Hagelberger emphatically denied.

October 1, 2016 - 2:30pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Town of Darien, water district.

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If an informal show of hands lines up with the results of a post card survey of residents and the Darien Town Board holds true to its pledge of neutrality, then it looks as though a proposed $24.8 million project to supply public water to two-thirds of the population in the Town of Darien will not come to fruition.

About 40 of the estimated 65 people who attended an informational meeting this morning (and into the early afternoon) at the Darien Fire Hall lifted their hands in opposition, while only 10 indicated they were for the proposal, which estimates show would cost property owners, at the outset, $1,275 annually in debt service and water usage costs.

At a similar meeting attended by about 230 people on Wednesday night, Town Supervisor David Hagelberger said the show of hands indicated a 60 percent against, 40 percent in favor outcome.

Hagelberger said that the current opportunity to get public water to the 2,095 town residents who have well water is probably a "go or no go" situation.

"We've been working for 10 years at this, and today we're at a point where it is much less expensive than any of the previous alternatives," Hagelberger said. "If this doesn't go through ... it could be another 20 to 30 years."

The supervisor said the board has been working with the Monroe County Water Authority for the water supply and the USDA Rural Development to get funding for what would be called Town of Darien Water District No. 6, noting that the USDA's approval of a $6.8 million grant is necessary to bring the costs to an affordable level.

He also stressed that the board wants to carry out the wishes of its residents.

"This is an issue of whether you want this to go forward or not," he said. "People have asked us over the past couple years to get water, and we've spent a lot of effort and a lot of time to get to that point. Now, we're in line for funding, but it only works if you want it."

The board contracted wilth Steve Mountain, of Mountain Engineering, to gather pertinent cost, funding and water supply data to present to property owners in order for them to make an informed decision.

Mountain (in top photo) shared for about an hour from a PowerPoint presentation, reinforcing Hagelberger's view that now is an opportune time to create the water district because of low interest rates (currently 2.25 percent on an $18 million loan paid over 38 years), an abundant supply of water (coming from Lake Erie and administered by Monroe County), and the willingness of USDA Rural Development to offer the grant.

The projected $1,275 annual cost to the typical household to be served is broken into two parts -- $914 for the project debt distribution ($712,850 per year divided by 780 household units) and $361 for water supply and operations and maintenance cost based on current water rates. Mountain said the figure could go down, depending upon an increase in the number of units or additional grants, or up as water rates increase.

Darien residents would pay slightly more than those in recently formed water districts in Stafford, Pavilion, Oakfield and the Town of Batavia due to the need to build two water towers and a pump station.

"The topography in Darien and having to build the pump stations drives up the cost," he said.

He also informed residents 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.

Businesses would be treated in the same manner as homes in computing costs, while farms would be given special consideration when it comes to usage, Mountain said.

Questions from the residents primarily dealt with costs, with some worried that the expense would ulitimately be higher than anticipated. 

Tim Hack, who moved with his family to the town last year from Kenmore, said his taxes went up by $1,000 this year and he could see them increasing to $7,000 or more should this go through.

"We have a well with a filtration system, and the water is good," Hack said. "If I want taxes this high, I could live in Clarence Center, Williamsville or Amherst. And how can you guarantee that the $914 won't go up, with delays, cost increases in materials and the bidding process?"

Mountain responded by saying that the $914 is a fixed price -- "If it goes higher than that, then the project stops," he added -- and that contingencies have been included in the project budget.

Mammot Road neighbors Darrin Wojna and Dan Janis agreed wilth Hack.

"Taxes are high enough and there is nothing wrong with the well water," Wojna said.

"When I moved out here my taxes were $1,800. Now they're up to six grand," Janis said. "Now they want to tack on $1,275 a year in taxes plus two grand to hook into it?"

Tony Mateszewski, who moved back to the town after a 30-year absence, said he calculated the cost over 38 years at $50,000.

"I can put in several deep wells for $50,000," he said. "And what about maintenance fees and inspection of my well? I have a perfectly good well and I don't need Erie County water."

The Goodmans -- Eric and Trina -- questioned the town board's process of paying for engineering and other services before coming to the residents, and also the sending post cards (requesting a yes or no vote) to property owners. Hagelberger responded by saying the board needed to get cost estimates because "you would have asked us 'how much does it cost?' " and will validate all post cards returned to the town clerk. 

Trina Goodman said she believes the board is leaning toward passage of the proposal, and said she will go "house to house" to find out what residents really want.

Again, Hagelberger said the board has no preference.

"If you have a preconceived notion that the board is in favor of this, then if so, why are we spending all this time and are here today?" he asked in reply.

In the end, tabulations from the 868 post cards that were mailed out will give the board clear direction. At least, that's what Hagelberger is hoping for.

"The last thing we want is a 50-50 split," he said. "We're doing this for the residents. We're not doing this to the residents. We're looking for a majority, (understanding) that some people are going to be unhappy no matter what."

Mountain said should the district be formed -- after either legal petitions by property owners or a vote of the town board, a public hearing and passage of a resolution -- it would take up to another three years before construction is complete.

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