The biggest problem facing the town as it prepares for a referendum on the proposed Phase II Sewer District, according to Town Supervisor Chris Burdick, is that very few people are aware of it.
Mr. Burdick made the comment at a special town board work session Tuesday afternoon, held specifically to discuss the upcoming vote and how the board can facilitate it. The board has set Monday, Oct. 19, as the date for a special referendum in which only those who own property in the proposed Phase II district are eligible to vote.
Rachel Asher, a member of a Katonah homeowners group that supports the sewer project, said she believed many people were in favor of forming the new sewer district, but might not bother to vote, thinking it is such a no-brainer. “I think that inertia is a very powerful force in America,” she said. Mr. Burdick agreed, and said that was why the board needed to take steps, such as sending out a mailing to every eligible sewer district voter.
“For a $14 million project, to spend another couple of hundred bucks for a mailing to make sure everybody votes is worth it,” Mr. Burdick said.
The Phase II Sewer District project is proposed to begin as soon as Phase I is completed next year. It would encompass apartments and condominiums adjacent to Bedford Hills Memorial Park, and along Haines Road and Lake Marie in Bedford Hills. It would also include some 96 residential parcels in Katonah adjacent to the Phase I sewer district, and 10 parcels on Railroad Avenue in Bedford Hills.
The overall project cost is $13,088,000, with only $175,000 being paid with sewer bonds that will contribute to the annual cost to property owners. The average cost will vary based on assessed value and water usage, but, in general, should be under $600 per year per property.
About 98% of the funding is from other sources, including $7.7 million in New York City Department of Environmental Protection funds. Mr. Burdick had previously explained that because New York City is the primary source of funding, the town needs to act quickly to ensure the project is not impacted by the city’s looming financial crisis.
Much of the meeting dealt with the logistics of voting. Mr. Burdick said in speaking with residents at Bedford Lake, he had been encouraging them to vote by absentee ballot. “You don’t have to worry about the weather, and you know you don’t have to go chasing after those people to vote on Oct. 19,” he said. Town clerk Lisbeth Fumagalli added that ballots can be returned directly to the Town House, “and you don’t have to worry about the U.S. mail.”
Mr. Burdick talked about the importance of getting a large voter turnout in favor of the referendum.
“This is not simply a matter of pride,” he said, saying a large margin of passage was needed to demonstrate broad public support to state and county partners, particularly DEP and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. “It means something, when you’re able to tell them it passed by 94% and we had an 85% participation rate,” as was the case with Phase I in 2017, he said. “It figures into their thinking and how they relate to it, and how willing they are to partner with us and help make it work. I know for sure that the very, very strong turnout has been decisive with NYC DEP in getting us Phase II.”
Mr. Burdick urged town officials to personally lobby contacts living in the proposed district to urge them to participate, even though the pandemic ruled out door-to-door campaigning.
Board member MaryAnn Carr said personal contacts made prior to the Phase I sewer district vote were critical to achieving the high voter turnout for that special election.
Kate Galligan continued to express hesitation on the appropriateness of board members advocating for a position on the referendum. It was suggested that Ms. Galligan turn over the names of people she knew in the Phase II sewer district to other town officials for follow up. Mr. Burdick said he would gladly call those people Ms. Galligan identified.
Ms. Fumagalli suggested the town hold small group gatherings in outdoor settings such as Bedford Hills Memorial Park, with refreshments, to raise awareness of the vote. “It’s word of mouth more than anything else,” she said. The board supported the idea and settled on Saturday, Oct. 10, to hold an informal session in the park. It plans to send an invitation to all residents on the Phase II voter list.
There will be a follow-up board work session on the Phase II sewer project Monday, Sept. 21, at 3 p.m.