TUPPER LAKE - Town board members decided Friday morning that the majority of them will support the Zande family getting a new $4,500 grinder pump, to be paid for by everyone in Sewer District 23.
That won't happen, though, until the board passes a local law setting a new policy for any similar circumstance in the future.
Matt and Amanda Zande want to build a house in the sewer district on a lot that doesn't have a grinder pump. Matt's parents, Bob and Betsy Zande, bought the lot about five years ago, after the district was installed.
Tupper Lake town board members debate the pros and cons of a local sewer district covering the cost of grinder pumps for new houses. They are, from left, Kathy Lefebvre, David Tomberlin, Patti LIttlefield and Jerry Fletcher.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)
The board introduced the local law after an occasionally heated, hour-and-a-half back-and-forth between the board and the Zande family at the special meeting Friday. Now the board has to announce and advertise a hearing on the topic with at least two weeks' notice, hold a hearing, and then it can enact the law.
The Zandes grew concerned that after all that process, the board might change its mind on the decision, so Betsy Zande asked each of the town board members who supported it to guarantee they wouldn't change their votes. Councilwomen Patti Littlefield and Kathy Lefebvre and Councilman David Tomberlin all said they wouldn't change.
Councilman Jerry Fletcher was the only no vote. Town Supervisor Roger Amell didn't vote, saying he has a conflict of interest: Amanda Zande is his niece - and, he noted several times during the meeting, she makes him brownies. He acted largely as a referee during Friday's meeting.
Town board members emphasized that this policy will effect only Sewer District 23, which covers the Lake Simond and Moody road areas, not 17, in the Little Wolf area, where people have been required in the past to pay for their own grinder pumps on new buildings.
There are about 30 vacant sites where the issue could come up in District 23, town board members said. The Zandes argued that there are fewer than that, since some of the lots could share pumps.
"I think you're thinking it's a bigger problem than it is," Betsy Zande said.
Mercurio plan a no-go
At a packed hearing on the topic a week earlier, Tony Mercurio, who lives in the sewer district, offered an idea for the problem. Since everyone agreed the Zandes should get a pump but no one wants to pay for it, the town could get a bond to pay for it, then apply the property taxes the Zandes pay to the town on their new home to paying off the bond rather than putting it into the general fund.
At the hearing, a number of residents of the district supported the idea, and most of the discussion centered around it.
But Littlefield put it to bed quickly Friday.
"While it seemed to be a pretty quick fix, I don't think it's the right way to do it, because I think it's obligating all the town people to pay back the cost of what that pump would be," Littlefield said. "The districts were designed to be self-sufficient, so I don't think it's right to charge people who live on Underwood Road or Old Wawbeek to help pay for anything in any of the established districts.
"I'd be willing to guess the (state) comptroller's office wouldn't think that was a good idea, either."
Several board members talked about how hard a time they have had making the decision. Both Littlefield and Lefebvre said they have lost sleep over it, and they've gone back and forth a number of times.
Only Fletcher said he was against it from the beginning and continued to be against it.
The Zandes have been paying fees on the district ever since they bought the property, and they argue that if they're helping to pay for other grinder pumps, they should get one as well.
"They're paying for Jerry's; they're paying for yours; they're paying for yours," Bob Zande said to each of the town board members who live in the district. "I'm asking for what's fair."
Littlefield said that as a member of the district, she has no problem helping to pay for the pump. But she noted that other people have been told they would have to cover all the costs themselves. In at least one instance where that happened, Littlefield said the person who was inquiring ended up buying a different lot in part because of that.
The Zandes argued that it would encourage development to set the policy, because it's difficult for a young family trying to build to add $6,000 to their expenses, while each member of the district would pay $20 for the pump if the costs were split up.
"Twenty dollars as opposed to $6,000," Bob Zande said.
Amell said the town's cost for the apparatus are $4,500, not the original estimate of $6,000.
Bob Zande said that lowers the cost to each member of the district to somewhere around $15.
The Zandes several times implied they would sue the town if the board forced them to pay for their own grinder pump. Pete Littlefield, another member of the district, said he thinks the district would have to pay the cost of the town's legal fees if there is a lawsuit.
After introducing the local law, the board tentatively set a public hearing for the town's next regular board meeting on May 13.
Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.