To the Editor: Syracuse Post Standard 11/12/07

We are impelled to respond to the county comptroller’s statement as reported in The Post-Standard headline, (Oct. 31), “County comptroller says he’s hiding nothing.” To the contrary, we know that Onondaga County is being fiscally irresponsible with our tax money and that the county comptroller has not provided residents with independent fiscal oversight.

We refer to the cost overruns on the building of the Midland Avenue sewage plant. We also refer to the total disregard for honest discourse on the effect all of the Lake Project cost increases will have on household sewer rates. Taxpayers need to pay attention.

From 2003 to 2005, Midland sewage plant project costs skyrocketed from $55 million to $122 million. The county’s main argument for such a sharp rise was “inflation”; however, the construction index that quantifies inflation for industry for that period is about 10 percent, not 100 percent. (ENR Magazine Construction Cost Index said the annual inflation increase for 2004 was 6.29 percent and 4.65 percent for 2005.)

In June 2005, county Legislator Althea Chaplin introduced a resolution that called for an audit of the Midland project. This resolution was sent to the Water, Environment Protection Committee. At that committee meeting, the county comptroller dismissed the need for an audit that would have scrutinized the $67 million cost increase.

So, even without having the information that an audit would have provided to examine the discrepancy between estimates and the overruns, the Legislature narrowly approved the expenditures.

What has not been publicized, and may not be known by taxpayers, is the impact these exorbitant costs will have on their sewer rates. In 1998 when the county announced the Lake Cleanup Project, it estimated that over the next 35 years the per-household sewer rate would go from $238 to $590.

Over the last two years the costs for the Midland Avenue and Clinton Street sewage plants have more than doubled from original engineering estimates. Using the current sewage project costs and the county’s projection method, the $238 household tax will be at least $1,151 in 2033, almost five times the 1998 rate.

Finally, what the taxpayer certainly does not know is that on Oct. 15, 2007 the United States Environmental Protection Agency wrote to County Executive Pirro, stating that the county was not in compliance with the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).

The EPA has demanded that the county go through the NEPA process before awarding the Clinton sewage plant bids. If the county does not comply with federal environmental regulations and awards the bids anyway, the county will jeopardize $44 million in state and federal funding.

In an effort to evade a NEPA review (it could take six months), outgoing county executive Pirro notified the EPA that he would bypass the NEPA requirement: that the county will not use promised federal dollars for the Clinton sewage project.

Presumably, the forfeited millions of dollars will have to come out of Onondaga County taxpayers’ pockets. No wonder the county and its comptroller hid such irresponsibility from county residents before the election.

We long for a clean creek. Since 2000 our group, The Partnership for Onondaga Creek, has advocated for creek revitalization that is socially, environmentally and fiscally responsible. We urge The Post-Standard and county taxpayers to look carefully at this issue and encourage your county legislator to do the same.

Ask why these projects are getting rubber stamped by the county Legislature. Ask why there is no scrutiny by the county comptroller’s office. As taxpayers and residents, we all deserve to know more, and at the very least, have an impartial audit of these sewage projects.

For details on this issue, please go to our Web site – – and click on “Midland Ave Sewage Plant” and then “Research.”

Bruce Block, Gary Bonaparte, Lula Donald, Tarki Heath, Aggie Lane, Lionel Logan, Louise Poindexter, Tish Price, Sabrina Rautio, Elvia Stewart and Richard Vallejo