AT&T looks to squeeze Voorheesville on lease agreement 

VOORHEESVILLE — Making money is a lot tougher when you’re no longer the only game in town. 

Until 1984, American Telephone & Telegraph was operated as a monopoly and regulated as a utility — almost entitled to guaranteed profits.

But at the May meeting of the Voorheesville Board of Trustees, Mayor Robert Conway said he had been contacted by an AT&T contractor regarding the cell tower on Woods Hill Road and, apparently, there’s been a pretty strong nationwide push by the company to renegotiate contracts and drive down the costs of lease agreements.

“And they’ve been pretty aggressive with it,” the mayor said, to the point where the company is threatening to move its equipment to new sites. 

Conway said he reached out to his brother, who works in the field, and his brother confirmed it’s a national trend so AT&T can remain competitive.

AT&T spokesman Jim Kimberly told The Enterprise by email: “We are constantly evaluating our current tower leases for both efficiency and service as part of a long-term strategy we began implementing in 2017. As we find ways to reduce costs, we try to negotiate with owners but may determine that relocating to a newer nearby tower makes the most economic sense. We try to keep costs down while ensuring our customers get the service they expect from us.”

The general consensus had been that most leaseholders were willing to work with AT&T, Conway said, because it’s a revenue source they otherwise wouldn’t have. 

The chances of AT&T pulling up stakes are probably low, Conway said, but for the sake of harmonious relations, leaseholders have made some kind of concensession.  

The village currently receives $1,750 a month in rent from AT&T, the mayor said; the company proposed a $650 cut — to a $1,100-per-month payment. 

AT&T has $164 billion of debt.

And made nearly $14 billion in profits last year. 

“I told the contractor that I’d be talking to the board, but he can assume that we are not going to agree to $1,100 dollars a month,” Conway said, and then a final and best offer of $1,580 per month was subsequently sent to the mayor — a cut of $170 per month.

“It feels strange that rents get reduced because rents only ever go up,” Trustee Rich Straut said. “But this isn’t people rent, this is antenna rent.”

To bring a new site online, Conway said, quoting his brother, would cost, “a couple-hundred-thousand.” But if AT&T can get site owners nationwide to reduce their rents by up to $200 a month — and you’re talking tens-of-thousands of sites — it adds up to real money, Conway said.

Over the course of the village’s 60-month contract, a $650 per month cut would have cost Voorheesville about $39,000, village lawyer Rich Reilly calculated. The proposed $170-per-month cut would amount to $10,200 in lost revenues over 60 months for Voorheesville.

In June 2019, Ken Schmidt of the cell-tower consultation company Steel in the Air told Light Reading, which covers the global telecom industry, that AT&T had relocated less than 1 percent of its roughly 65,000 cell tower locations in the previous two-and-a-half years.

Conway cautioned — but made it clear that he wasn’t advocating for the company — that the village has to be careful that AT&T doesn’t decide to enhance its tower at the Presbyterian Church in New Scotland and eliminate the need for the tower at Woods Hill Road.

He said he would be in contact with the AT&T contractor and let him know the village was “mulling it over.”


Sewer project update

Voorheesville learned from the Great Recession to be prepared with projects should stimulus money start to flow. 

The village recently asked engineering firm C.T. Male for an updated plan to install Voorheesville’s proposed $3.6 million low-pressure sanitary-sewer system which would service 175 properties across three areas of the village.

Straut told The Enterprise that, when the federal government started putting money into infrastructure projects following the 2008-09 economic downturn, it put those funds into existing programs. 

So, if the village has the sewer project shovel-ready, Straut said, the thinking is, if COVID-related infrastructure funds start to flow, Voorheesville “will be in a good position to capture some of those funds.”

The village also received a $400,000 grant for the project in December 2019.

The way the sewer project was developed originally, Straut said, “was we were looking at potential phases of the plan”:

— Phase one would be 59 properties on South Main Street and Voorheesville Avenue;

—Phase two would include 38 properties on Pleasant Street; and

—Phase three would service 74 properties on parts of Drywall Lane; Voorheesville Avenue; and Main, Grove, Pine, West, and Zelda streets, according to the feasibility study.

The way the village is hoping to be able “to execute this right now,” Straut said, would be to roll phase two in with phase one — which is something that has been talked about since the plan was first introduced in September 2019.

Phase two, or the second area, as Straut called it, already has partial sewer service now — 18 homes are currently tied into a community septic system that terminates in the village park behind village hall, which would be added to the system.

“So it’s just a little bit of a reconfiguration,” Straut said of adding the 18 homes to the new system. “And the reason we’re considering that is that there’s a concern that that septic system is reaching the end of its life.”

And if the village can get the finances “to work well,” Straut said, then that’s how “we’d look to do it,” because the Pleasant Street community septic system has a shelf life, which it is approaching and would take a lot of money to reconstruct. Instead, the village can just run a new line.

The village thinks adding the 18 homes to the project will make it more cost effective, Straut said, because, at this point, that means not having to run new sewer lines along Pleasant Street.

It’s still a $3.6 million project — with a $400,000 grant — but Straut said the village has asked C.T. Male to to take another close look at those costs “and really refine them,” to make sure that “we’re as close to where we expect the actual bid to come in at.” 

The village is currently conducting an income survey, Straut said, which might make the village eligible for some other grants. He said that there are programs designed to service people within a certain income range; for example, the United States Department of Agriculture offers such grants. 


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