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Troy Leaders Unify To Protect Infrastructure

Troy city seal

As infrastructure failures plague Troy, city leaders are working together to address the crisis.

A network of century-old water and sewer pipes have begun succumbing to rust and time. Troy Mayor Patrick Madden has been doing battle with the aging systems, both pre-emptively and post-collapse. At least in the early stages of his term, which began in January, the Democratic Madden has an ally in Republican City Council President Carmella Mantello, herself once a mayoral candidate.

Mantello last Thursday night pledged the council will work with Madden to set a "fiscal compass" to lead Troy out of its fiscal problems.

Recently, part of Campbell Avenue collapsed due to a failed sewer line. That line has been repaired but the road has remained closed in that area. The mayor’s office Monday did not offer a timeline for when the road will reopen.

Madden had already met with Congressman Paul Tonko days before a mid-January water main rupture in Lansingburgh that rang up a $73,000 price tag and affected water supplies in nearby communities. The city’s finances have already been under intense scrutiny from the state comptroller’s office among others.    "The bulk of the cost is the time we spent on overtime and the cost of the contractor who came in and fabricated the steel to weld over the pipe. It cams in at a figure that was about where I would have guessed but again I didn't want to say anything at that point in time, because that's a quick way to jinx things. So that $73,000 of course does not include the retail value of the water that was lost through the leak. If you look at that, that i think was another 25, 27-thousand something in that neighborhood. It didn't cost us that to produce the water, but that's the retail value of the water."

The city's water fund account, despite having been depleted, was able to cover the repairs. In an audit sharply critical of Troy's operating procedures, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli revealed that the balance in the city’s water fund had decreased by more than $6.1 million, or 67 percent, over the last three fiscal years because officials made repeated transfers to the general fund to subsidize the city’s operations.      "Tapping too often into reserve funds using one-shot non-recurring revenue has really put the city's finances in a questionable condition."

On that, DiNapoli and Madden see eye-to-eye; both are optimistic about Madden's plan to get Troy finances back on track.

In her response to Madden's State of the City address, Mantello outlined some ways that can help accomplish that, beginning with cutting overtime.    "7 million dollars in two years is unacceptable.  We need to create positions. The state comptroller has warned the city of Troy that this year's budget is predicated on one-shots and overestimation of various revenues."

Mantello announced that the city council has approved the hiring of an outside auditor, "Who is going to work with us to develop a corrective action plan which will address many of the financial issues. And we will give a plan to the state comptroller which we're mandated under general municipal law within the next 90 days."

Meantime, Madden has been researching city documents detailing the underground water distribution system, looking for and identifying weak links. He hopes to purchase a camera that can be used to inspect sewer lines.   "I've had an opportunity to look at some of the maps and schematics, and I'm impressed given the age of the system, with how thorough these records are, how complete they are with respect to all of those criteria: the age, construction, the size, et cetera."

Madden says there is enough money in the water account to cover the cost of repairs associated with the Campbell Avenue sinkhole.

Some good news for the city: $12.8 million in federal funding has come in to shore up the city's 90-year-old sea wall.   "If we were ever to lose a section of that sea wall, it would wreak all sorts of havoc in the city of Troy, because we have sewer lines and water lines running not too far back from the sea wall.  It could create a catastrophe both for the city and for the river itself, so that was a home run to get that FEMA funding."

Mantello and the city council are looking for state aid as well: last week a resolution passed requesting the state legislature adopt a program for water infrastructure,  "Similar to the CHIPS program for highways and bridges. It's time that the federal government, state government, begin to pay attention to upstate communities like Troy's aging infrastructure."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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