Mayors highlight village initiatives
SCHUYLER COUNTY--Infrastructure and water projects are at the top of to-do lists in Schuyler County. The mayors of Burdett, Montour Falls, Odessa and Watkins Glen shared current projects and some on the horizon at the League of Women Voters' 65th annual meeting Monday, May 20.
Dale Walter is in his 22nd year as mayor of Burdett. In 2019, Burdett completed and is now occupying its new village hall and fire department. By year's end, Walter expects all street lights will be converted to LED, which, he said, will reduce energy usage. Walter also confirmed that Burdett is in its second cycle of replacing fire department apparatus, including replacing fire trucks every 10 years. Burdett is in the planning stages for its Bicentennial Celebration, scheduled for June 1. At this town celebration, Walter said the new fire house will be officially opened, live music, competitions and local vendors will provide entertainment, and the day will end with fireworks. Burdett is considering the possibility of constructing a village solar farm and hoping to revitalize conversations about participating in the regional waste water treatment plan.
"The village of Burdett and the village of Odessa went together to do a wastewater study about the same time as Watkins and Montour did theirs," said Walter. "We put ours on hold hoping that when they got theirs all built up, we could join in with them and make it a true regional wastewater plant. I'd like to restart that conversation, probably this fall."
Montour Falls Mayor John King outlined the village's activities in three areas: housing, infrastructure and quality of life. Rental properties and vacant properties now must be registered. Habitat for Humanity is building its second home in the village of Montour Falls. In addition to partnering with the village of Watkins Glen for the wastewater treatment plant, Montour Falls is constructing an ultra-violet disinfection system and replacing water meters, water valves and street lights in the village and the marina. In addition, the hospital is in the middle of a $10.3 million upgrade, the Fire Academy is expanding and the village will undertake a certification of the levies, a new FEMA program, which will prevent the need for residents to obtain flood insurance.
"If we don't do this certification, people would need to get flood insurance," said King. "If we build new buildings, they would have to be put on stilts. In other words, we have to get the levies certified, and that's going to cost us about a half a million dollars to do."
Odessa Mayor Gerry Messmer shared his short and long-term goals. Using village funding or "faster" grants, Messmer indicated the village is focused on repairing streets, exploring an Equine Trail, enhancing the capacity of the village's public works department with new equipment and forming a community development task force that will organize community events.
"We are currently working with a landowner who wants to put in about 12 houses within the village of Odessa," said Mesmer. "He's in the design phase. They'll be tied into the sewer and the water systems. For Schuyler County, which is short housing, that's a huge benefit. I'm sure they'll sell and fill up pretty quickly."
A variety of infrastructure issues, including park efforts, water repairs and zoning changes will require larger grants. Once water and sewer are fixed, the village will focus on recruiting new businesses to Main Street. Eventually, Messmer indicated, he also hopes to explore the possibility of establishing a logging industry museum.
Assuming mayoral duties in March 2019, Luke Leszyk was thrown immediately into the budget cycle. Rather than dipping into reserves to balance the budget, the village of Watkins Glen raised taxes by just over 4 percent to cover a new incentive program for members of the fire department, current infrastructure projects and building reserve funds to cover future needs.
"We need to start programs that will do things like replace fire trucks," Leszyk said. "We don't have that now. Our fire department has zero money for a truck program. I looked at some of our reserves and they're horrible. They are depleted...and we need to start building our reserves back up. That was the objective of this tax season and the budget."
Leszyk indicated the work on Main Street is projected to be done by the end of June. More than 150 street lights are expected to be installed on Main Street and up State Route 14. In addition to the wastewater treatment project, the village has undertaken another water project: installing a monitoring system that tests water that is pulled from the lake and treated before the water enters the water tower. In addition, discussions are beginning for the Clute Park revitalization.
"It [Clute Park] is still going to be a public park for everyone to enjoy," said Leszyk. "It's not going up for sale."
After hearing from the four mayors, Glenda Gephart, president of the League of Women Voters, closed the public session, noting that "there's a lot to smile about in Schuyler County."