Residents of West Seneca’s eight water districts are being asked to consider consolidating into a single district to be taken over by the Erie County Water Authority.
There are two separate systems within the town: a direct service area, along the borders of Buffalo and Lackawanna; and eight, lease-managed districts of varying size to the east containing approximately 9,000 dwellings.
In the direct service area, “Erie County owns and operates the system. They pay for any of the repairs that are necessary,” Jason A. Foote, of Clark Patterson Lee, explained during Monday’s Town Board meeting. The town pays a hydrant maintenance fee.
Meanwhile, the town is responsible for all capital improvements in the eight leased districts, where the water authority handles customer service, billing, meter reading and maintenance. The town doesn’t have a Water Department, and has practically no budget nor manpower for its responsibilities.
Capital improvements in those districts have been deferred, said Town Engineer Richard B. Henry III. “Basically, when we have a problem we call the water authority anyway,” he said.
Currently, capital costs are charged to the specific district in which they are incurred. District 2, in the central part of the town, is a very small district, officials noted.
But a takeover by the Erie County Water Authority would cost approximately $7.5 million. The town has a $400,000 local government efficiency grant to offset planning costs.
For the takeover to happen, the town would have to replace 44,280 feet of old water mains; replace 57 hydrants; and make improvements to water storage tanks, according to Foote.
For homeowners in those eight districts, their total annual cost would increase from $220.00 to $265.41. The $3.20 annual operation and maintenance fee charged by the town would be dropped.
If things were to remain the same, residents could be looking at a total annual cost of $620, some of which would pay for a systematic replacement of water lines.
“Ultimately, this is the public’s decision,” Henry said.
Once the town board votes to proceed, there would be a permissive referendum period of 30 days, during which five percent of residents in the eight districts could sign a petition to force a public vote. A majority of voters in each of eight districts would have to vote in favor for the consolidation to occur.
“We think this is a good thing for the town,” Henry said.
Meanwhile, another public meeting on the proposal will be held early next year in the senior citizen center. The takeover could take two years to complete.
“We are going to talk [about] this time and time and time again before we move forward on it,” said Town Supervisor Sheila M. Meegan. “It’s huge, and we want you to be comfortable with it.”