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ISSUE OF WILL: Does enough support exist for a water authority in Seneca County?

Is it time for Seneca County to adopt the ‘authority’ model of providing water or sewer service to residents?

While the Seneca County Board of Supervisors debates the prospect of a $24 million sewer consolidation project – they are also weighing the creation of an ‘authority’ to manage water or sewer.

When County Manager Mitch Rowe assumed his role over the winter – he told that he was skeptical about the authority model working in Seneca County.

That’s changed now; and he credits the political will, which seems to have shifted in recent months on the subject.

“When we spoke last I didn’t have a sense that the political will existed to pursue a Water and Sewer Authority. The Wayne County visit seemed to generate some interest in support by the Board to at least take a hard look at establishing an Authority,” Rowe explained.

That visit was a recent meeting with officials in Wayne County, who established an authority to manage water and sewer 25 years ago.

“I had no idea how many similarities exist between the two Counties when it comes to water and sewer. The Wayne County Model could work well in Seneca County, particularly given that no existing service providers have to give up their operations unless they desire to,” Rowe continued.

The meeting in Wayne County was led by Martin Aman, Executive Director of the Wayne County Water & Sewer Authority. They met alongside engineers from MRB Group to discuss the system, it’s implementation, and how it functions over a period of years.

“Our Public Works Committee will continue to discuss the formation specifics including submission of a CFA grant request to pursue creation of this option in Seneca County,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Bob Shipley said. “I have repeatedly expressed a desire to create a business friendly atmosphere here in Seneca County.”

Meanwhile, Romulus Town Supervisor David Kaiser says the County is ‘long overdue’ to address this matter. “”I believe that society has come to a point in time where services such as providing clean water and sewage disposal should be managed at a macro level,” he explained. “The days of every separate municipality operating their own systems is archaic and inefficient. There are simply too many independent water and sewer districts that are creating an ever more complicated web of inter-municipal agreements in Seneca County.”

His primary point of contention is with those municipalities in Seneca County who profit from producing potable water. “One or two municipalities that view producing potable water as profit generating operations and others that transport water to other municipalities down stream for profit is unfair to all users of this service,” Kaiser continued. “Providers of these services need to be accountable to everyone who is using them. At present that is not the case.”

Fayette Town Supervisor Cindy Lorenzetti agreed, and said it comes down to the facts. She has been a long-time, vocal supporter of an authority, and is pleased with the County’s ongoing discussions related to it.

“”We all have known for years this county has struggled with water issues. I feel a lot of our problems have been political agendas,” she explained. “The tour at the Wayne County Water Authority was very educating and I feel our county mirrors Wayne County by having two primary water making plants.”

“The time is now to go in this direction,” she added. “Our county will have more businesses wanting to come here with the promise of water. We have many wineries, breweries, and farms that have been waiting for this to happen.”

Lodi Town Supervisor Lee Davidson said political will has been an issue. “I have been talking about a water and sewer authority for a while. Every time I say something about Seneca County having such, there have been several people who say we cannot afford to do it,” he recounted. “I agree with Supervisor Lorenzetti that it is political and I do believe it can work for Seneca County.”

County Manager Rowe says that Seneca will continue pursuing grant opportunities to fund the creation of such an authority.

“The two big takeaways were the similarities between the two counties when it comes to water and sewer issues and the other that no municipality has to give anything away unless they want to,” he added. “[Seneca County] will be pursuing a NYS grant to further study and evaluate options for the future administration of water and sewer in Seneca County,” Rowe concluded.

Reporting in this story by Josh Durso. He hosts a pair of podcasts on Check out Inside the FLX and Sunday Conversation each week on  Send tips and leads to [email protected].