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Guest Column: Mayor Keith T. Pierce
“On roads, water, leaves and a sewer”
ODESSA, November 8, 2015 -- Its been a very productive summer here in Odessa. Your Village officials, as always, have been working hard to improve life in our little village with improvements to roads, developing responsible plans for future upgrades, welcoming a new, greatly needed eatery, and constantly trying to streamline our government operations.
Roads and the rest of our aging infrastructure are one of the most important issues our Village board faces; elements that may have been installed incorrectly many years ago or that have just outlived their life expectancy continue to be the top priority for us. What hinders us the most is a lack of funding to accomplish these projects. We receive road funding from the State in the form of CHIPS money each year in the amount of roughly $42,000. Now to me that sounds like a lot of money, but just as an example for you, the much-needed repair work we recently completed on upper Church Street cost the Village $30,000. So as you can see, the money does not go very far. What's even more frustrating is that because we are using State funds for these projects, we must pay State prevailing wage to the contractors completing the work. This means that an average equipment operator on this project makes around $67/hour, where on a non-State-funded job they may make around $20/hour. Therefore we are able to do a lot less with that money because almost half goes to labor costs of the project.
There will no doubt be differing opinions on this information, but I thought it to be important that you all have this information and be well-informed. As far as the other $12,000 of CHIPS money, we were able to repair a bad area at the bottom of Texas Hollow and repair several small potholes in the rest of the Village.
We are also always looking at ways to improve our water system. Over the summer we were able to get some idea of expense as far as replacing aging pipes. The costs are somewhat staggering, and we expected that, but we are moving forward with grant applications and searching for any revenue streams to accomplish these upgrades. We know it needs to be done. In the meantime, I assure you our water is completely safe to consume. In the past year, there have been many comments made about our water being dangerous to drink. This cannot be further from the truth. I admit we have issues with discoloration at times. Some experience this more than others, but the water is tested all the time by the Board of Health and passes with flying colors every time. So I ask for your patience and understanding as we all work through our discoloration issues, and please know that this issue is always on our minds and that we are doing everything we can to repair the problem.
One last thing on road paving. As you all know, our Main Street received a much-needed facelift this summer. What you may not know is that I have been inundated with complaints about that project. As you may also not know, the Village had nothing to do with this project. We weren't consulted, we weren't contacted, we had no say. As far as I'm concerned it's one of the worst construction projects I've ever seen and demonstrates the real lack of respect our State officials have for small local Governments. When asked about some of these deficiencies and obvious areas that need further work, we were informed "It's not in the budget" or "That wasn't part of the bid." So I guess we will all have to live with the areas that are even bumpier than the previous pavement, and sidewalks that now have sloped pavement along the edges. The only advice I can offer is to contact your State officials. I wish there were more I could do.
As in the past, we have also been taking unsafe trees down within the Village. Little by little we are getting this issue under control. The thing that is not helping is when NYSEG hires a contractor to come in and "prune" branches away from their lines. I understand why this needs to be done, but what I don't understand is why they cut away almost the entire tree and leave the rest for you or us to worry about. As a Village, we must now go in and cut down three trees on Church Street because they are unsafe to leave like they are. Just another expense that we as a Village did not create but have to fix. This again is another frustration for us because our complaints fall on deaf ears at NYSEG. Maybe if enough of you call and complain to NYSEG, this practice can be improved upon.
We are now in our second year of picking up leaves via our leaf vac, and I would love to hear from all of you as to whether this works better for you. The feedback I am getting from our DPW department is that it works great except when there are twigs or branches among the leaves, which significantly slows down the process. Therefore I would ask that you make every effort to keep the branches and the leaves separate as much as possible. I wanted to remind you all as well that we stopped dealing with plastic trash bags containing leaves several years ago. We can not take them and if they get any moisture in them they become way too heavy for our crew to deal with. If you want to continue to use these bags, please dump the leaves out of the bag next to the road and we will be more then happy to remove them. Also as a reminder, the Village does offer biodegradable paper bags that can be used and are available at the Village offices.
My favorite time in the Village is fast approaching: the holiday season! Again this year, the Village will be hosting our annual tree-lighting ceremony. We are always attempting to improve this ceremony and to that end we will not be doing the lighting in conjunction with the Children's Christmas party this year. Instead we have set a date of November 28th at 6:00 p.m. in hopes of getting a larger turnout from our residents. This has become my favorite activity as Mayor of Odessa, but we need to see more people and more support from our community if we wish to keep this new tradition alive. A lot of work goes into this event by many people and if it's not something our community wants, then we will have to revisit the idea to determine if we will continue it.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Erik Thorpe and his lovely wife Sarah on the success of our latest business addition in Odessa, The Bucket Bar and Grill. Our Village has been in drastic need of a place where people and families can gather to eat a great meal and chat about the events of the day. I'm proud to say I have become a bit of a "regular," not just because I feel we should all support our local businesses, but because the food and service is just outstanding! Every time I've been there, I've seen Erik go out of his way to make people feel welcome and appreciated, and that is refreshing to see! If you haven't visited yet, I encourage you to stop by and dine on some of the best food in our area! The Village wishes Erik and Sarah all the best on their new adventure.
Lastly I would like to update you all on our continuing efforts on a Village sewer system. We have had numerous meetings with Hunt engineers trying to establish what type of system would work best for us, and if it is at all feasible expense-wise to proceed. I have said many times in the past that I believe we must have at least a system along Main Street if we ever expect to create responsible growth in our business district, which would in turn lower taxes Village-wide. To that end, we have come up with at least a starting point of a system for our Main Street Corridor. We have looked at several concepts, but this one seems to make the most sense at this juncture. All businesses on Main Street would be connected, as well as several residential units. Everyone who would be affected will be contacted before our December Board meeting about a special meeting that night with Hunt Engineers to explain the plan. This will be a very important session, and we need as many residents to attend as possible. This would be a huge undertaking by your Village, and we need as much feedback as possible so that we can make informed decisions for you and all the generations to follow. Please plan on attending this important meeting on the third Monday in December.
In closing, I hope that you all have a wonderful holiday season and that I see you all at our Christmas Tree lighting on November 28th. I also encourage each and every one of you to become involved in the shaping and future of our Village. We are all truly blessed to live where we do and we should never take that for granted. Your Village Board is elected to be your voice, but we can't always be that voice without input from all of you. Tell us how you feel about things going on here. That is the only way we will continue to grow as a community and remain one of the greatest places on earth to raise our families!
Keith T. Pierce
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869