The legendary city hall cone of silence has descended on the 72nd Street water line project. The work is enveloped in the omnipresent murkiness of the Dyster administration and the residents remain in the dark as to exactly how the repair work became necessary in the first place. And that's because transparency is to the Paul Dyster administration as a cross is to a vampire.
In recent weeks the mayor has struggled mightily to tell anyone who will listen that he has no money for the project. A project initially estimated to cost "several hundred thousand dollars" but rose to $640,000 and then settled at $960,000 when finally bid. The city hall canard of "we have no money to pay for the work" flies in the face of the fact that state law forbids a bid being let until expenses for the project are fully funded. So, how was the bid let if there's no city funds available?
We have some suggestions on how to address the troubling questions and growing confusion flowing from the frozen water line scandal and the dysfunctional relationship between city and water board.
First - the city should hold regular weekly public briefings as to how the 72nd Street work is proceeding. Budget, work progress, work schedule, and the details of the "re-engineering" of the water line would be shared at those public sessions. The expanding project budget should be detailed and the status of the relationship between city and water board should be reported on for the residents.
Second - go back to the future - 2010 when 72nd Street was rebuilt by the city. It was in 2010 that the road took a bad turn as the city and water board mishandled the road construction and water line replacement from Stephenson Ave. to Niagara Falls Boulevard. As a result water service to many of the homes on that section of 72nd was frozen for the past two winters. Because the investigation was never conducted, and because no culpability was determined, the "he said, she said" nonsense continues to this day between city and water board.
Third - the State should conduct the investigation with Senator Ortt and Assemblyman Ceretto taking, without prejudice, respective leadership roles. The goal of the probe should be to a) determine responsibility and liability of the city and water board in the cause and remediation of the 72nd Street water line, and b) establish a clear cut understanding from the point of the probe forward regarding how the city and water board must cooperate regarding water line, sewer line, and road maintenance.
Fourth - a shared services agreement between the city and water board should be initiated. Why? Two reasons: 1) the city has a publicly documented financial crisis including a $7.5 million deficit, a $63 million debt and a shrinking casino revenue stream. 2) The water board cannot sustain the track they are on as they struggle to maintain an aging infrastructure, continually increase administrative costs, and bicker with the city as to who should pay for what. High taxes and high water rates are a painful reality for residents as the city and water board continue their contentious relationship. Significant savings can be realized if the two bureaucratic entities share finance, payroll, purchasing, engineering, computer, HR, and law departments. Building maintenance, outdoor maintenance and snow removal are additional points for shared services.
If there 's any good to come from the scandal of the 72nd Street frozen water lines let it be a new era of responsible administration and shared services that could realize millions of dollars in savings. Savings that should translate into lower taxes and reduced water bills for residents.