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Mayor won't commit to bonding money for sewer plant

Mayor won't commit to bonding money for sewer plant

Cost concerns

Village of Lake George Mayor Robert Blais reflects on his decades in office during an interview in 2012. The longtime mayor has said the village needs more financial assistance and cannot should the cost of a new sewage treatment plant by itself.

LAKE GEORGE — Mayor Robert Blais said Monday he would not commit to bonding for Lake George’s new wastewater treatment plant unless the village receives more state aid for the $24 million-plus project.

The village recently opened bids for the project to build a new plant, which were higher than the anticipated $22 million price tag. The Village Board has 90 days to accept or reject the bids.

“If nothing changes between now and 90 days, I have serious reservations about signing the contracts.” he said. “If we don’t sign the contracts, we’ll be in violation of the consent order, and obviously the village will be opened up to fines.”

Lake George is under a consent order from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to replace the 1930s-era plant because it releases an excessive amount of nitrates, which can cause algal blooms that degrade the water quality of the lake. The new plant must be operational by August 2021.

Blais said the village has been seeking a partnership with the state — meaning it would assume half the cost of the plant. Originally, the project’s price tag was about $18 million. That has swelled, however.

“That’s what the village anticipated we could afford at the time. Now, we’re at $24 million. It doesn’t change what the village can afford. The village is the same size as it was three years ago,” he said.

The village has obtained only about $6.7 million in grant funding.

Blais said he is hopeful the state will provide more funding. Last week, officials from the governor’s office called village officials for a second time, seeking more information about the plant and why the costs have increased.

“My impression is that they’re putting together something for the village,” he said.

Blais said U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., has been lobbying on the village’s behalf and made a call to the governor.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to attend the grand opening ceremony of Charles R. Wood Festival commons, set for May 29 at 11 a.m. Blais hopes he will have good news to share.

“If we’re going to get anything at all, he’s going to come to the grand opening of Wood Park and he’s going to make the announcement himself. That’s his style,” Blais said.

“If we’re not going to get anything, I would suspect he probably won’t come,” he said.

The village may be able to borrow up to $20 million at no interest, Blais said, but it couldn’t handle that large a debt load.

“We can easily put $500,000 a year into the budget and pay the next four or five years, but then the village is broke,” he said.

Blais said he went through the budget to try to find where he could cut items that were not absolutely necessary and found about $325,000 in savings. That would include laying off one person in every department in the village, eliminating all events in Shepard Park, cutting funding for the Lake George Park Commission’s boat washing program and making other cuts.

“It could be done, but it’s going to cut back on the village’s opportunity to stay competitive in the tourism business, and it’s going to hurt the taxpayer and we’re already asking them for more,” he said.

The impact of having to pay for the plant would be enormous for local businesses, he said, citing the tax bill of a business like the Holiday Inn, which would go from $14,000 to $30,000.

Trustee Ray Perry said the village cannot afford to borrow that much money.

“I would never vote for us to break the backs of our taxpayers. It’s just not fair to them. It’s not fair to us,” he said. “I just don’t understand why we can’t go back to them and say, we need more time.”

Perry said perhaps the village should go back to the contractors and ask them to “sharpen their pencils.” The village has its back against the wall with the deadlines imposed by the state.

“It’s public knowledge that we’re over a barrel and we have a consent order and we have to abide by it,” he said.

“Are (the bids) extra high because they know it’s a good time to make a buck on us?” he asked.

Blais said the original $18 million estimate has gone up because of the Trump administration’s tariffs on steel and aluminum and other increased construction costs.

He did not think that there was anybody taking advantage of Lake George.

“I knew the names of everybody that bid. They’re all reputable firms that have done business with the village before,” he said.

Blais is going to contact DEC officials and inquiry about an extension. They have been very cooperative with the village.

“We’ve met all of our deadlines up to now, but we’re coming to crunch time,” he said.

The board will meet again on May 29 at 8 a.m.

Michael Goot covers politics, business, the city of Glens Falls and the town and village of Lake George. Reach him at 518-742-3320 or mgoot@poststar.com and follow his blog at http://poststar.com/blogs/michael_goot/.

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