Mayors Flock to Syracuse, New York
for Water Management Teach-In

Amy SeibertIn a novel information-exchange forum many mayors, town managers, public works commissioners and other civic leaders croweded into several rooms of the Sheraton University Hotel in Syracuse on September 26, to prepare for new challanges in water system mangement. Experts from around New York State and the nation exchanged techincal data about Government Accounting Standards Board, Standard 34 (GASB 34)  cost and financing  of upgrading water systems and, most especially, public-private partnering.  Representatives came from Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester, White Plains, Binghamton, Watertown, Ithaca and Middletown and from the villages of Rockville Center, Port Chester, Fishkill, Menands, Millbrook, Athens, Albion, Mannsville, Marcellus, Hamburg, Skaneateles, Speculator, Shortsvillage, Sodus, Wolcott, Weedsport and Union Springs and many others.

The Water Management conference, sponsored by the New York Conference of Mayors, National Council for Public Private Partnerships and the Maxwell School of Environmental Finance at Syracuse University, started with a traditional lecture by experts in system rehabilitation, GASB 34 compliance and finance options.

The morning plenary session focused first on the cost of upgrading systems thorugh a case study of Jersey City by Tom Tavano of United Water, followed by Charles Amento of the New York State Department of Health. Charlie's deep understanding of the State Revolving Fund and the Environmental Facilities Corporation helped participants understand the new, accelerated, loan programs. Dwight Hadley, Chief Financial Officer of Albany Airport and former Assistant NYS Comptroller lectured on compliance with GASB 34. Finally, Rick Norment, Executive Director of the National Council for Public Private Partnerships spoke knowingly of current plans for federal programs to finance water and wastewater infrastructure redevelopment.    

Following the plenary session, the 80 plus mayors and managers were split into two groups. The participants relaxed at dining tables while in one room Amy Siebert and Bill Smith of Malcolm-Pirnie Consultants developed a dialogue with the mayors on benchmarking and improving municipal systems. Ed Markus of Black & Veatch talked about regionalization to accomplish improved municipal efficiencies. Oakfield, NY, mayor Raymond Cianfrini talked about his experience in trying to combine the small towns and villages in his area into a larger regional system to reduce costs and improve buying power. Ken Sherrieble of Valley River, Inc. gave his expert advice on complying with GASB 34. Professor Bill Jarocki of Boise State University engaged the audience in a dialogue on rate setting and capital planning.

In another room, a lively debate developed concerning thevirtues and vices of outsourcing operations to private companies. Jim Binder, President of Alternative Resources, Inc. spoke of improving   the procurement process for smaller communities without easy access to world-class consultants. Dan Elias, principal of Elias Group, an international law firm specializing in assisting communities develop public-private partnerships helped advise smaller communities on how they can protect their assets and interests through carefully constructed procurement contracts. Mayor Bob Elliott of Croton-on-Hudson brought several of his operating personnel to discuss the sometimes painful issues of labor and political risks attached to outsourcing of water services, especially in this time of heightened anxiety about public safety. Ricahrd Borer, Mayor of West Haven, CT reviewed his experience of having outsourced operations of his city's wastewater system to several different vendors. Former Mayor of Taunton, MA, Dick Johnson, now a vice president of leading contract operations provider US Filter contributed his experience of being on both sides of the issues in his distinguished career of public and private service. Rich White of Earth Tech discussed his company's difficulty in developing a design-build- operate model wthin NY State's restrictive regulations.

Many of the smaller communities remain very doubtful about the benefits of outsourcing water services but all had strong opinions well articulated. Clearly, in New York the need for assistance is great as is the need for information on how to obtain help from state and federal governments and from private companies.

American Water Services sponsored a buffet lunch. The day ended with a cocktail party sponsored by Earth Tech.  

Click here for photos of the conference.