UPDATE: Elmira City Council voted 5-1 in favor of moving forward with making the Elmira Water Board a city department. Senator Tom O’Mara or Assemblyman Chris Friend would need to introduce legislation in the state legislature in order for it to be passed into law.
Elmira City Council will vote on whether they want to make the Elmira Water Board a city department on Monday night. The council vote is just the first step in this process, but water board officials said this is just another way the city is trying to keep itself from drowning.
“I think this is nothing but a desperate money grab,” Elmira Water Board President Marty Chalk said.
“It’s no secret that the city has financial issues,” Elmira City Manager Mike Collins said. “The Elmira Water Board, being an entity of the city, who wouldn’t want to utilize an asset?”
Though technically the board is already considered an entity of the city, they don’t contribute any money to it. That led the city to file a lawsuit against the board back in 2015.
“According to the charter, the profits should be paid to the municipality which would be the City of Elmira,” Collins said.
But water board officials said they need to keep their cash in reserves, so that they can maintain and update the aging water supply system. They said they spend a different amount every year, depending on which lines need to be updated or maintained.
“We’re doing 5 to 7,000 feet of water main replacement every year, we replace several valves, hydrants,” Elmira Water Board General Manager Mark LaDouce said. “Currently we have probably around 1,200 lead service lines left. We do 70-100 a year replacing those.”
Another concern? The Elmira Water Board serves customers outside of the city.
“We service parts of the Town of Horseheads, the Town of Elmira, Elmira Heights, Village of Horseheads,” Elmira Water Board Treasurer Alyssa Mack said. “Taking money from outside town people and using those water rates to fund the city operations I don’t feel is responsible.”
If passed, Collins said operations would largely remain the same.
“You know their leader that reports to the commission – I would take his lead, I would take his recommendation,” Collins said. “The expert on the day-to-day operations, he’s the expert on knowing the infrastructure. I would take that into consideration just like the commissioner currently does.”
“People are not aware of the political aspects of this and that’s what’s rearing its ugly head right now are the politics involved,” Chalk said.
The resolution would need to be approved in the state legislature before the water board would officially become a city department. Collins hopes to get feedback from Senator O’Mara and Assemblyman Friend sometime before the end of the 2018 legislative session.