DUNKIRK - Calling the proposed Northern Chautauqua County Regional Water District "the creation of yet another layer of government," Dunkirk Mayor Anthony J. Dolce last week made a pitch for current distributors to have intermunicipal agreements as water providers.
Dolce said the current providers - Dunkirk, Fredonia and Brocton - are already prepared to provide service to other municipalities in the region.
"Simply labeling a project as 'regional' does not necessarily make the long-term results beneficial. No new governmental entity need be created, staffed and paid for to accomplish this north county distribution system," he wrote. "Intermunicipal agreements between and among the producers and users would sufficiently address the details."
Dolce said charges to new customers in the district would bring in added revenue, meaning the city users would be held harmless.
"The costs for the expansions could be recovered by up-charges to the new service area customers," he stated. "The per-unit costs would be a factor of the significant volume to be generated and the 20- to 30-(year) operational lifespan of the required infrastructure. Given the current rate structure of the city and the outlying municipalities, it is possible that such a proposal would result in lower rates for other jurisdictions even with the infrastructure recovery."
He also cited a current lack of details surrounding costs and water rates as another reason for his skepticism of the project.
"To blindly believe that the creation of another local government, an inter-municipal water agency, will be more efficient and cost-effective is bad government, for all concerned; a complete and critical analysis of all alternatives is more appropriate and responsible."
Kathy Tampio, Chadwick Bay Regional Development Corp. executive director, responded to Dolce's letter in a phone interview.
"There are several options, and certainly this could be one of them, but that's a decision for the water agency members to make," she said. "Whatever they decide and meets their goals of the regional water system, it doesn't mean it specifically has to be a district and it could possibly work with intermunicipal agreements, but the board has to consider that as a collective group."
Tampio stressed the formation of a water authority does not correlate with additional personnel.
"It would probably utilize the existing personnel, and the governing board of the district is made up of unpaid members," she said. "This isn't an authority like Erie County."
County Legislator Keith Ahlstrom, D-Dunkirk, who sits on the newly formed water agency with Dolce, calls the mayor's move "disappointing."
"I firmly believe the answers to our problems do not lie in the past, and the mayor's proposal is essentially a 'business as usual' approach," he wrote in an email. "The proof that this does not work is evident every time we read the paper: Rising taxes, businesses closing, consent orders, etc. We have not truly explored new ways of operating; instead, we retreat to the safety of the status quo and we fight to protect what little piece of 'turf' we have left."
Ahlstrom added a regional water district could remove the burden of water filtration from municipalities.
"Dunkirk and Chautauqua County do not have many more chances to 'get it right,' and this decision (by the mayor), to me, is another in a long line of making decisions with our heads in the sand, a decision that will hold us back in the future, a decision that is lacking in supporting documentation and a decision I cannot support," he said.
A meeting set for Thursday would compare water rates if three, two or one provider was used. Dolce wrote this letter ahead of that meeting.
"The presentation was set up after our first meeting to give the experts an opportunity to answer questions that were brought before it. The mayor has preemptively abandoned the discussion before it has even begun," Ahlstrom stated.
"Everybody is open to hearing all the presentations and whatever makes the most economic and organizational sense is the one I hope they will see," Tampio said. "A decision has to be made soon, and we can't wait much longer."