So when members of the public and the current city council raised eyebrows over the legality regarding the sale of water to the neighboring town of Wilton, Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco hoped to amend the city’s contract to in hopes of moving the sale forward.
The council did vote to amend the contract by a 3-2 vote, with Commissioners John Franck and Michele Madigan voting against amending the contract, with Madigan even suggesting that a completely new agreement be considered. The sale is now restricted to 25 new residential connections.
The issue is the Wilton subdivision named Floral Estates Five. The neighboring, original development, Floral Estates, is supplied city water. When Belmonte Builders decided to construct Floral Estates Five nearby, the company asked the city to provide the homes with water as well. This was agreed to, under the idea that the original contract from 1998 allowed the city to do this without seeking council approval.
The contract stipulated, however, that all water being used by Wilton would be for commercial purposes only, meaning not residential homes. It also required all water being used by the town to pass through a specific meter located near Weibel Avenue, which in going to Floral Estates Five, it does not.
An opinion from the city attorney’s office indicated that the original contract would include the sale of water to the 18 houses in Floral Estates Five. Yet some members of the council, including Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen, felt there needed to be more specific language in the amendment regarding the homes in question.
Commissioner Scirocco was quick to include what the city stands to gain by doing this, mentioning that each home is connected after a one-time fee of $3,000 before paying rates three times higher than residents of Saratoga Springs.
“This money goes into revenues for the water budget,” said Scirocco. “None of the tax money that you pay goes into the water budget. This was an issue where we felt we could generate money for the city – lost revenue that we no longer have.”
The commissioner also downplayed the amount of water per day - 5,000 gallons - stating that the city uses more water when performing maintenance flushes on fire hydrants.
“All in all, I think this is a good deal for the city, it’s a good deal for water use and the taxpayers of the city,” said Scirocco.
The concerns from Commissioner Mathiesen stem from talking with members of the public who believe that the sale of this potable water could lead to further development of more subdivisions which would subsequently require more water.
“I asked [Assistant City Attorney Tony Izzo] how we would restrict this sale to just these 18 houses and I don’t see anything here that does that,” said Mathiesen. “Why is the geographic area that’s described here so broad?”
The attorney was present during the meeting to offer an answer to Mathiesen’s question.
“It is my understanding that the council wanted two things: where the meter was going to be and to what geographic area was proposed to have this water sold,” Izzo responded. “One of the foundations of this presentation here this evening is that this does nothing new other than continue a sale under and existing agreement. What we have this evening is a location for a meter and a geographic location specified where this water can be sold. Everything else is already in place and was probably put in place by a previous council.”
Commissioner Mathiesen continued, stating that he was not against the sale of water to this subdivision and is not concerned about the city’s water supply being depleted, but expects a certain level of cooperation with Wilton going forward.
“Any time you’re selling city assets to another municipality, I think [the council] should have the opportunity to approve that going forward. I also felt there should have been a public hearing about this,” said Mathiesen.
Members of the public who spoke during the public comment period prior to the council beginning their meeting agenda seemed most curious about the city’s water supply being depleted as a result of this sale.
Former Director of Public Works Bill McTygue did not mix words when addressing the council, stating that the idea of selling water to Wilton was both “bad” and “dumb.”
McTygue suggests that there is no excess water to sell outside of the city. He brought up a drought from July of this year and how it affected the city’s water supply. He mentioned that statistics on file with the city show that Saratoga Springs could face a shortage at some point if they continued to sell water, but did not specify where the numbers he spoke of came from.
Peter Tulin, who was the city’s attorney in 1998 when the original agreement was reached, offered his take on why the city should take a more conservative approach to the sale of water.
“This isn’t Saratoga Health, Saratoga History or Saratoga Horses; this is Saratoga Springs,” said Tulin. “Next to the people of this community, our next most valuable resource is our water. You have to remember that, geographically, the city of Saratoga Springs is larger than all of Schenectady County. We still have a lot of area in this city that can be developed that’s going to require water.”