Major infrastructure borrowing passes Kingston Finance Committee

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KINGSTON – Millions of
dollars in new spending for several major projects passed through the
Kingston Common Council’s Finance & Audit committee Wednesday
evening, during a two-hour session where department heads justified the
expenses to the satisfaction of aldermen. The full common council is expected
to ratify the spending packages at the upcoming meeting on February 6.

Included are two large water department projects, plus a major sewer plant
upgrade, stormwater upgrades for the Twaalfskill along Wilbur Avenue,
and two streetscape overhauls. All were passed unanimously by the committee.

Almost all of the projects discussed at the meeting will be compensated
by either pending grant applications – and mandated by New York
State, or otherwise required. Nevertheless, the committee grilled administrators
at length before granting their preliminary approval.

Freshman Minority Leader Patrick O’Reilly took a leadership role
in the questioning, as newest member of the committee, having replaced
former minority leader Deborah Brown, who left office at the end of December.
Aldermen Anthony Davis and Steve Shabot took a more aggressively conservative
stance, creating a new dynamic in the wake of Brown’s departure.

City Water Superintendent Judith Hansen obtained permission to float up
to $1.5 million in grants to finance replacement of old water mains beneath
the Chandler interchange. This area will be transformed into a new roundabout
beginning next year, by the state Department of Transportation. Hansen
explained that the DOT will only dig down two feet for their construction,
which is likely to disturb the 130-year-old pipes located several feet
deeper.

Additionally, a second bond for up to $800,000 was approved by the committee
for preliminary engineering and design work on the Cooper Lake dam, mandated
by state regulators. Hansen discussed additional work which allows the
dam to possibly raise several feet, increasing city storage capacity.

City Engineer Ralph Swenson won approval to apply for a second grant to
help fix the sewer plant. A total of $7.9 million is required to perform
upgrades mandated pursuant to the State Pollutant Discharge Elimination
System (SPDES) permit program. NYS Water Infrastructure Improvement Act
will be utilized in case the state Intermunicipal Water Infrastructure
Grant Program approved last year falls through.

Swenson also obtained the green light for $48,900 to hire engineers for
a study of the Twaalfskill, which carries stormwater drainage for nearly
half the city down to the Rondout Creek. Capacity must be measured to
determine the proper culvert replacement size for several problem spots
along the creek. The matter sparked a discussion about other priorities
in different city wards.

“In the past, I had put a map together with clear plastic cover,
dry markers for every alderman, and I asked the council to get involved,
and to highlight various problems, and start working on a priority list.
And the council did nothing. So until the council does something, you’re
left with me, and what the mayor says are priorities,” Swenson said.

“I’m one of the veterans here, and I haven’t been here
that long,” replied Alderman Anthony Davis. “We would love
to see this map that you have put together years ago,” he said.
“The last time I knew, it was in Jim Nobles office. So you ask Jim
Noble where it is, and I’ll help you look at it,” Swenson
answered. Alderman-at-Large James Noble has a large map of the crumbling
city sewer system on the wall opposite his desk, which he studies often.

In other business, $62,700 was approved in bonding for the Broadway streetscape
project, first instance, which will be reimbursed by the State Transportation
Department. This money will be used to acquire various slivers of property
in the right-of-way. Additional funding was approved for a similar reconfiguration
of Hurley Avenue involving a bike lane.