Sewer rates for private system increased to prepare for transfer to town

GUILDERLAND — Over 70 homeowners will see a $58 increase in their next sewage system bill. The bill for the private system will increase a total of $175 over the next three years, to match the public sewer rate.

Presidential Estates, Heritage Village apartments, Colonial Woods, and Farnsworth Middle School, all off of Route 155, known as State Farm Road, are served by the last remaining private sewer district in Guilderland — State Farm Utility Corporation.

The district is solely owned and operated by Steve Strong, and he is hoping that over the course of three years, he can get the deteriorated pipes repaired and have the town purchase the system from him.

The system was built over 40 years ago, and initially included a sewage treatment plant, until the town enlarged the Nott Road treatment center in the 1980s, and State Farm Utility directed its sewage to the town sewer line and demolished the plant. 

An agreement was made between the town and State Farm Utility in the 1960s, stating that the town would eventually take over the system, but changes in codes and agreements between the state and federal governments require the pipes to be brought up to standards before ownership can be transferred. The agreement dictates that Strong must get town approval before taking out a loan in the company’s name.

In March, Strong appeared before the town board, asking for approval of an $80,000 bank loan to repair part of the sewer system; in September 2009, five houses in Presidential Estates had experienced sewage backflow into their basements. Strong exhausted his funds to help pay for repairs.

The town board voted unanimously in March to approve the loan, but agreed there was no timetable for the town’s takeover of State Farm Utility.

At a public hearing on Tuesday, the board again voted unanimously, this time to have Strong raise the sewer district’s rates over the course of the next three years, until residents in the district are paying the same rate as all other residents in town. The public sewer district rate is currently $301 per year, and the rate for State Farm is $125 annually.

David Freedman, president of the Presidential Estates Homeowners’ Association, told the board the association had done its “due diligence” in notifying the subdivision residents about the change in fees. He said the association had a great deal of support for the project, and that Strong, and the town’s water and wastewater supervisor, William West, had been very open about the process.

The attorney representing Heritage Village apartments, Robert Wakeman, also spoke at the hearing, and said his client was in favor of the proposal.

“Getting out from under a potential substantial liability is more than worth it to us,” said James Burns, manager of the apartment complex.

Each year, beginning in 2011, the State Farm Utility rate will increase by roughly $58, until 2014. All the funds in excess of the current $125 fee will be put into an escrow account held by the town. After three years, the money accumulated in the account will be used for repairs.

“The account will be held by the town and used exclusively for improvements to the sewer system,” said Supervisor Kenneth Runion during the hearing. At the completion of the improvements, the town will take over the system. 

Barton and Loguidice, LLC, a town-designated engineer, is preparing a report to evaluate the project, and Strong said he estimates the total cost could be between $400,000 to $600,000.  He calculated that, after three years, the amount of money in the escrow account would be close to $400,000.

Strong was glad the board approved the fee increase in order to get the process started.

“I’ve been having conversations with West annually, asking him how I can get rid of this thing,” Strong quipped in March. “Just take it!”

Other business

At its meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 21, the town board voted unanimously to:

— Authorize the supervisor to sign an agreement with Guilderland Central School District for cost sharing in tax assessment litigation by Star Plaza, Inc. (For the full story, go online to and look under Guilderland archives for Dec. 16, 2010);

— Authorize the supervisor to execute a Supplemental Betterment Agreement with the state’s Department of Transportation for bridge repairs; and

— Approve transfers as requested by the comptroller’s office.

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