Monday, May 5, 2008

Water’s Edge

In 2005/2006 the newly elected Cobleskill Village Board (consisting of new members Mark Galasso, Sandy MacKay and Mayor Sellers) voted to rescind a deal to extend water and sewer lines to a Lowe’s development just outside the Village boundary. Since then, the question of how to extend to water and sewer services to developments outside the Village’s borders is one that has persistently troubled the community. Town of Cobleskill officials feel entitled to the services and take the Village’s stand as an intentional slap. County-wide, economic development proponents accuse the Village of hindering potential progress.

Yet the Village has maintained, largely at the insistence of Mayor Mike Sellers and Deputy Mayor Sandy MacKay, that developers wanting Village water and sewer services must be annexed by the Village in order to get Village services.

This is a quite sound policy for a number of reasons. First of all, the Village’s water and sewer system does not exist to subsidize development in other municipalities. Allowing developers in the Town to tap into these services will only hurt the Village in the long run. Providing these services makes it economically attractive to build outside the Village, depriving it of tax revenues. This hurts the Village by helping to drive business away from Downtown and by undermining its fiscal stability.

Therefore, the Village has said to developers: if you want Village services, become part of the Village. So far, two developments on Mineral Springs eager to tap into the Village’s water and sewer lines have gone for this. Annexation talks and procedures are more or less underway for both projects.

But now, the recent mystery company’s arrival and its demand for water and sewer hook-ups puts extra pressure on the Village’s policy. The company is interested in a 100-acre site in Shad Point, an area in the Town of Cobleskill near Crossroads Barn and the east end of Mineral Springs Rd. This area is almost two miles from the Village boundary. Who would be expected to pay for the installation of these water and sewer lines for this distance? I don’t think it will be the mystery company.

But the best part (at least for some) is that extending these lines out to Shad Point would mean bringing potential water and sewer services to all of the parcels along Route 7 and Mineral Springs Rd., the area most likely to see increased development pressure. Naturally, this would solve Lowe’s water problem. How many other developers would be waiting in the wings to start building up other parcels with strip malls and big boxes?

I wouldn’t want the Village to rule out selling water and service to this mystery company. However, I think its existing policy of requiring annexation should be upheld. Let this company apply for annexation to the Village. Then, any other property owner wishing to hook into the water and sewer lines will have that option (of annexation) as well.

Better yet, this provides the community with the ability to hold this company’s feet to the fire. Legally, the Town is not able to condition approvals and such on meeting certain ‘social requirements’ like paying a livable wage and maintaining a commitment to keep the amount of jobs promised for a fixed period of time. However, the Village could make these part of a “community benefits agreement” as a condition for extending Village water and sewer services. As the company is requesting an extra service that it is not in anyway legally entitled to, such an arrangement would be completely voluntary, a form of contract zoning.

Hopefully, the Village doesn’t bend to the temptation to throw money and favors at a company that promises jobs but offers no proof or other means of validating its intentions. The public has the right to demand fair treatment from this company and any others seeking to do business here. What is required is a Village Board with the audacity to stand up for this right. So far they have demonstrated a willingness to move in this direction. In order to keep the Village Board on track, those concerned about economic justice and fairness should continuously remind Village officials of their obligations to the community.


Anonymous said...

I often wonder which of the town official(s) are potentially on the take. Given human nature, and the nature of their positions, there's got to be some greasing going on.

Anonymous said...

Any one see the article on the X- Mills people filing bankruptcy so as to avoid forclosure and loss of the real estate. I get a kick when the town officials are shocked by such a move, don't they know who they are dealing with.