Voorheesville looking to install a $3.6M sewer system in its rezoned Main Street and Business districts

The Enterprise — Michael Koff
Prime real estate: Pleasant Street is one of three areas in Voorheesville in which the village is proposing to run a new sewer line. The $600,000 Pleasant Street project would include tying 38 properties into the new line. All told, the village is proposing a $3.6 million project that would connect 171 properties to the new system.

VOORHEESVILLE — The village’s new comprehensive plan may be the key that opens the door to state funding for a municipal sewer system to service parts of the village.

As part of both the Voorheesville’s 2015 Main Street Master Plan as well as its 2018 Comprehensive Plan, the village set as one of its major goals fostering economic development in the village, specifically through the revitalization of Main Street, and specifically by improving — rather, installing for the first timeinfrastructure that would assist in attracting new business to the recently-rezoned district while also helping to better facilitate the area’s existing shops. 

The village is concerned that the septic systems that currently service the area can restrict businesses from moving into the commercial district, said Trustee Richard Straut

In many places, choosing a septic system over a sewer system “is fine,” Straut said, but having municipal sewer in a commercial area would help relieve the burden of waste treatment for, say, restaurants and, for example, the laundromat on South Main Street. “There’s a little bit more of an intense wasteload that has to be handled,” he said; it’s not that septics can’t get the job done — they are already doing that.

But installing sewers in the area would free up space in the yard areas for businesses that have parking, “which we know is a problem on our Main Street,” Straut said. 

Moving from concept to action, the village recently had the engineering firm C.T. Male perform a study to examine the feasibility of installing a $3.6 million low-pressure sanitary-sewer system that would service 171 properties across three areas of the village:

— Phase one would include 59 properties on Main Street and Voorheesville Avenue and would cost $1 million;

 — Phase two would be 38 properties on Pleasant Street with a cost of $600,000; and 

— Phase three, for $2-million, would service 74 properties on Drywall Lane, Voorheesville Avenue, Main, Grove, Pine, West, and Zelda streets.     

To try and offset some of the project’s cost, Straut, who works as an engineer, said that the village is pursuing grant opportunities; in fact, he said, a grant application was recently submitted. 

Straut said that he expects the village to hear back about the awarding of any grant by early 2020. And, while he didn’t want to speculate about the likelihood of Voorheesville receiving state funds, Straut did say that, right now, there is more grant money available for infrastructure projects from the state than there has been in years.

But he couched those expectations in light of the village’s relative affluence in comparison to, well, all other municipalities. In one respect, he said, Voorheesville may be asking for grant money at the best possible time — but the flipside is that a lot of that money is going municipalities with the highest need. “If you’re a bad actor, then you’re more likely to get money,” Straut said. 

So the village is not positioned to take advantage of those grants, he said; however, there are grants available that don’t focus solely on low-income areas or cities and towns with crumbling infrastructure. 

“It’s not necessarily a slam dunk,” Straut said, but he thinks that the village is currently in the best possible position to receive state funds. 

And one big reason for that optimism is the village’s recently-adopted comprehensive plan, which, Straut said, “is a big positive” when going after grants. That’s because the village is able to illustrate that the sewer project would be consistent with the plan and consistent with smart-growth initiatives. 

“So,” from that perspective, he said, “the village has a lot going for it.”

If Voorheesville could get the state to foot the bill for a third to half of the project’s costs, Straut said that he thought the village would be “in good shape.”

But wherever the village lands its efforts to help defray some of the costs of the $3.6 million project, Straut said that, to pay back the bond the village would have to take out to pay for the project, special sewer districts would have to be set up, where the cost of the new lines would be paid back over time — 20 or 30 years — by each of the property owners who would be receiving the benefit of the municipal sewer system. 

In its study, C.T. Male estimated the cost to property owners in each of the three phases for each year for a 20-year period (the life of the bond):

— The 59 property owners in phase one — with its projected capital cost of $1 million — would each have an annual payment to the village of about $695, which would be significantly less than either of the other two phases due to the relative density of the properties;

— With a projected capital cost of $600,000, the 38 property owners in phase two would each have to pay the village an annual fee of about $1,070; and

— Phase three has a projected capital cost of $2 million, on which 74 property owners would each pay the village about $1,609 in annual fees. 

There’s also the possibility that phases one and two could be done at the same time, in which case they would be set up as a single special sewer district and the combined capital costs of $1.6 million would be averaged across the 97 property owners. 

In addition to having to pay back the bond on the capital-project costs, individual property owners would also have to shell out another $7,000 for the purchase and installation of grinder pump and service lateral to hook on to the village’s sewer main. 

Straut said that there’s not really any way to defray the cost of the grinder pump; however, he also said that, depending on the type of system, if a problem were to occur with a homeowner’s septic tank, the repair costs could be anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000. 

The C.T. Male study also notes that estimated cost for electricity to operate each grinder pump would be about $15 per year. Additionally, the village would be charging a yet-to-be-determined fee for the operation and maintenance of the new sewer lines. But, Straut points out, the more people that connect to the system, the more the operation and maintenance costs become shared.  

The village already maintains two existing sewer districts, into which 403 homes  and Voorheesville Elementary School are tied, according to the village. 

Homeowners in Sewer District One — the Salem Hills Sewer District, which includes Maple Avenue, Mountainview Street, and Quail Run — pay an annual fee of $560. Single-family homes in Sewer District Two — along Pleasant Street — pay an annual fee of $372; and multi-family homes are assessed a $600 annual fee. 

When the village extended Sewer District One along Maple Avenue, Straut said that no property owners were forced to hook on at a particular time; they could purchase a grinder pump and make the connection when they were ready.

However, while those property owners may not have connected to the new line in a timely fashion, Straut said, they did have to help to pay to service the debt on the sewer main because it was available for them to tie into. “And what ended up happening is, over time,” Straut said, most properties connected to the sewer main. 

To service the debt on the new $3.6 million sewer project, Straut “envisioned” the village doing something similar to what it did with the property owners along Maple Avenue when Sewer District One was extended. 

By early 2020, grant money or no grant money, a decision would likely have to be made about whether to move forward with a new sewer system.

And should the village decide to move forward, Straut said that project could be designed and sent out to bid within a year, which means the earliest that construction could start would be sometime in early 2021.

 As for the actual installation of the new system, Straut estimated that it could be done in about a year. “At best,” he said, those 171 properties are two-and-a-half-years from having a sewer system. 

Asked about the likelihood of a project actually getting the green light, Straut answered, “I’m an optimist,” but it really depends on how the grant money shakes out and whether or not residents and business owners get on board with the plan. And Straut stresses that residents and business owners will have a say. 

“I would say, just pay attention … And pay attention to what is being proposed,” he said, because the village would like to hear as many opinions as possible before the first shovel goes in the ground. 

Because once the village commits to installing a $3.6 million sewer system, then, like it or not, every one of those 171 properties are committed. 

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