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Village weighs windfalls from tower and water fees

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CHATHAM – The Village Board may have found a way to get some cash into the budget by entering a more lucrative lease deal for the cell phone transmission tower that sits on the village water tower and by charging the new Price Chopper for water and sewer at the market the company plans to build just outside the village.

At the regular village meeting Thursday, September 8, the board heard from Bill Merrill from a company called Unison, which markets wirelesses transmission site leases. Mr. Merrill said his company would pay the village $184,000 up front to buy out its current contract with AT&T for use of the cell tower; Unison would then look for other carriers to use the tower along with AT&T. The village would get a 50% of any contract Unison signed. The village currently receives $2,000 a month from AT&T for use of the tower. An issue came up when Pat Prendergast, the village engineer, mentioned the need for the water tower to be painted and recoated.

Mr. Merrill said improvements to the water tower are the responsibility of the municipality, and the village would have to cover the cost of moving the cell tower while the repairs take place. But he suggested the village could apply the $184,000 the company was prepared to pay the village for the right to use the tower to the repairs, saying, “Maybe this is the money to pay for that.”

The board made no decision about entering into a contract with Unison at the meeting.

At last week’s meeting, village trustees also heard from Cheryl Roberts, the special counsel hired to represent the Village Board and Planning Board in dealing with Price Chopper’s plan to build a new store on Route 66 just south of the plaza where the company now operates a supermarket. The current market, which is in the village, is smaller than the new one the regional chain plans to build adjacent to it but in the Town of Ghent. Ms. Roberts said that she had a letter from November of 2009 that was a tentative agreement with the development company over the rights to use village water and to receive a PILOT, the acronym for a payment in lieu of taxes, from Price Chopper of $20,000 over 20 years.

Ms. Roberts stressed that nothing in the agreement was set in stone and the two sides are still discussing issues related to the different water and sewer rates charged to businesses in the village versus those outside the village boundaries. A small portion of the land where Price Chopper plans to build its new market lies within the village, and the company could invoke its right to use village water based on the sliver of land it has in the village, even though the vast majority of the proposed new project would be on land in Ghent.

State regulators recently gave Price Chopper technical approval to use the village sewer system, but the decision on whether that will happen lies with the village board. When the project was first proposed over two years ago, the state was refusing the approve of any new hook-ups to the sewer system, and though the village has made improvements to the system since then, Trustee and village Water and Sewer Commissioner George Grant said he remains worried about sewage overflows.

But Mr. Prendergast, the village engineer, said he didn’t see any technical reason that would prevent the new Price Chopper market hooking into the system.

Ms. Roberts also said that she was not sure the village would receive the proposed $20,000 under a PILOT, since taxes on that property were paid to the Town of Ghent not Chatham. But the village could receive money from the company under another name, like a community use fee.

There will be a joint public hearing about the project with Planning Boards of both the village and the Town of Ghent Monday, September 19 at 7 p.m. at the Tracy Memorial.

At the village meeting there was also discussion about a village noise ordinance. Trustee Lael Locke said she and Police Chief Kevin Boehme were still working on a proposed noise law. They are reviewing other municipalities’ laws to create something to fit the village.

Several local firefighters and a fire engine from Chatham reported for duty in the Schoharie County community of Midddelburgh after Hurricane Irene devastated the area, Fire Chief Paul Pratt told the meeting. Mr. Pratt said he was very proud of the volunteers, Paul Rideout, Doug Blish, Tab Eigenbrodt and Joe Leoffler Jr. They helped unload drinking water and supplies from tractor trailers and fight seven structure fires in the area.

The next regular village meeting will be Thursday, October 13 at 7 p.m. at the Tracy Memorial.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email eteasdale@columbiapaper.com.

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