Town board members in Bethany need to hear from town residents on an important topic: Do you want public water?
Eric Wies, senior associate for Clark Patterson Lee, repeated that message several times last night at a public meeting in Bethany attended by nearly 100 residents.
The town board won't go forward with a public water project unless enough residents express interest because there's no point in going forward if property owners won't eventually sign a petition in support of creating a water district.
To that end, Wies (a water project consultant) said there are a number of factors property owners must consider, beginning with the fact their annual expected cost for public water could be as much as $1,600.
The final cost won't be determined until after the town board takes the next step toward setting up one or more water districts.
Wies explained in detail how water districts are formed and funded.
There is grant money available either from the state or federal government, but according to census data, the median household income in Bethany is $58,200.
That's much too high to even discuss the possibility of a state grant and a tad too high for a USDA Rural Development grant.
If there's sufficient interest from residents to take a closer look at public water, the town board will commission a third-party household income survey.
The responses will be kept confidential and the aggregate data shared with the town board.
If it shows that the actual median household income is less than $58,000, then the town would have a shot at a USDA grant.
Such a grant could lower the annual cost for residential water to $1,000 a year on average.
Bringing public water to Bethany involves creating one or more water districts.
Each water district would borrow the money necessary to connect to a water main from either the Monroe County Water Authority or the Town of Batavia's water supply and install water lines down each roadway in the district.
Part of the annual cost for each property owner is repayment of the loan, which will take 38 years to pay off.
"We're not spending our money. We're spending your money," said Supervisor Louis J. Gayton. "We don't want to spend your money if this is something you don't want."
The loan payoff follows the property, not the current property owner.
Some of the water cost for property owners, of course, is for the water itself. There will also be a charge, mandated by the county for new water districts, to help pay for the big water line that brings water from Monroe County to Genesee County.
Bethany water customers will pay the surcharge -- 60 cents per 1,000 gallons of water -- whether the new district(s) goes with Monroe County water or Town of Batavia water.
Wies encouraged property owners to really examine the cost of their well water. Well water costs include pumps (and pump replacements), electricity, replacing plumbing and fixtures regularly if the water is too hard, filtration, chlorination and water safety tests.
Some residents may find they're already spending as much as $1,600 a year on water, Wies said. They just don't realize it.
"This is a decision each of you will have to make yourselves," Wies said.
Public water will also mean fire hydrants in the town and more effective firefighting.
If residents decide to push forward with a water project, then Hyde and other residents (board members can't do it) will bring a petition around to each resident. The petition will have the property owner's name on it, the parcel number and the exact anticipated cost of water for the property owner.
If the owner signs the petition, it's like a yes vote. No signature, it's a no.
Property owners holding at least 50 percent of the assessed value of all property in the district must sign the petition, but as a practical matter, property owners with more than 70 or 80 percent of assessed value must support the formation of a water district.
At 50 percent, it's much easier for one owner who objects to block formation of the district.
If there's enough support for the district, then the town must appeal to the Comptroller's Office to approve the formation of the district. The Comptroller can veto the formation of the district where the annual cost of water exceeds $685.
The issue of public water reached this point largely because of the work of Carl Hyde, the champion for public water in Bethany.
At the end of the meeting, Hyde said he's done all he can do to get the issue to this point.
"Now it's up to you," he said. "This is your decision."
Top photo: Eric Wies. First inset, town attorney David DiMatteo. Third inset, Carl Hyde.