Parish rejects water district

Village of Parish

PARISH — Nine years is a long time to wait for clean water. In November 2018, residents here voted by an almost two to one margin for the construction of a water district that would finally end their clean water drought. That vote was rejected by the town’s board and the plan sent back to the proverbial drawing board.

Now, almost two-and-a-half years later, residents of the village and some of the town are getting another chance.

The vote on the construction of water district number one will be held March 1 from noon to 8 p.m. at the Parish fire station. Voters must live within the boundaries of the proposed water district and will be eligible according to whom is listed on the property’s deed.

“If you live in water district number one, and you’re on the deed to that property, you’re entitled to a vote,” said Mary Ann Phillips, Parish town supervisor. “If the property is in your name and your wife’s name, you get two votes. If the deed shows it’s you and your wife and three kids, then you get five votes. It’s whoever’s on the deed are the number that are able to vote.”

Since that vote in November 2018, the price of this project has gone up considerably. “We had to update,” Phillips said. “We had to do more things for the WIIA (New York State Water Infrastructure Improvement Act) grant that we didn’t do for the first one. So, it cost us more to get this stuff done. And the cost for delaying it another two years, inflation, minimum wage, things have gone up, so they had to recalculate the whole cost piece of what it would be, and it went from $9.2 million to $16.63 million.

“We also found out we only qualified for one WIIA grant versus two,” Phillips continued. “So, now we’re doing a WIIA grant plus a USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) grant, which is a federal grant, and we’ll be applying for other ones. The more grants we get, the less it’ll cost per person per year. But right now, I can’t put those in the calculations, because who knows if we’re going to get them?

“So, they had to figure the max,” she said. “It will not go up. If the voters approve it, you can’t have it cost more than the $16.63 million. There are other grants that we can apply for that we might get that will lower that cost for everybody.”

The bottom line cost per household? “Instead of $707 a year, it’s $903,” Phillips said. “If the residents approve that, it’ll come to the board’s meeting in April, and the board has to have a supermajority, which is four out of five saying ‘yes’ in order for it to move forward.”

Does Phillips think the public will pass it? “I’m not sure,” she said. “I’ve had a few people call me and say, ‘Well, it’s only $200 more a year. I can swing it ‘cause I want water.’ I’ve had other people say, ‘That’s a lot more for me to come up with,’ and they may vote no. So, I’m not sure. The first time it passed almost two to one, but I have no idea where it’s going to go.”

Some people in water district number one get good water already and may not want to pay more for a water district they may not feel a need for. “But if they don’t buy into it,” Phillips said, “in other words, if they don’t want to tap into this pipe that’s going to be going by their house, instead of paying that whole amount, all they pay for is the cost of construction of the pipe. The water coming to it, they don’t pay. The meter, they don’t pay. The only piece they pay is strictly the construction of the pipe. Everyone who lives in water district number one will have to pay for that. So, instead of $903, it’s $500-something they would have to pay a year, if they don’t tap into it.”

People who choose not to tap into the new pipe are still paying, according to Phillips, for “the water tank, the pump, and all the pipes that go by your house. The connection will be there, so down the road, if they choose to, they can run it to their house. But if they’re not going to, the connection will be there, but the water will just bypass them.”

The proposed water district number one covers the whole village and some of the town, “not a lot,” Phillips said, and it does include the high school.

The $16.63 million cost, if approved, will be funded by a 38-year loan, according to Phillips.

She estimates it’ll be two years for the project to be completed. COVID may delay that. Phillips said she’s heard from other towns with ongoing water projects that construction workers are not showing up over COVID concerns.

Nevertheless, Phillips is looking to the future. Once water district number one is done, she said, she’s “ready to start looking at water district number two. There are people in other areas that are not included in water district number one that still need the water. They have bad water. They have wells that go dry. There are businesses that want to expand and they cannot because they don’t have the water.”

Phillips has been working on the creation of water district number one for quite a while now but barely takes credit for any of it.

“I rely on a lot of good professional people who have been doing this for years,” she said. “All the people we hired for this round have water projects behind them, several, whether it’s towns, villages, cities. They know what to do and how to do it.”

By the late evening of March 1, Phillips may know whether nine years of effort has once again come close to fruition, awaiting, once again, only the approval of the town board.

However, absentee ballots will be allowed for this vote and may delay the final results somewhat. “If it’s close, Phillips said of the vote, “we’ll definitely have to wait.” Those ballots may still come in after March 1. But if the March 1 vote is not close, she said, the absentee ballots probably won’t make a difference in the outcome.

If passed, the measure will be followed by a board meeting in April, though, according to Phillips, the board could call for a special meeting to vote on the project sooner.

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