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Could state grants and loans improve water infrastructure in Syracuse and Oswego?

Ryan Delaney
WRVO News File Photo
Crews work to repair a water main break in Syracuse.

In his 2016 budget presentation, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed investing an additional $100 million in a $200 million grants program that helps pay for water infrastructure projects. Despite the water infrastructure problems facing central New York, only two municipalities in the region are receiving funding in the first round of grants.

The 45 projects in the grants program are supplemented with $362 million in loans from the state Environmental Facilities Corporation. In Oswego County, the Village of Phoenix is receiving $6 million and in Cortland County, the City of Cortland is receiving almost $4 million in both grants and loans. So far, no projects were awarded for Onondaga County although there were 372 water main breaks in the City of Syracuse in 2015.

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner said for a city the size of Syracuse, these loan programs do not always work.

“Municipalities are paying so much for pensions and healthcare, they don’t have the additional money to move into a loan program,” Miner said.

She said the programs are aimed at smaller municipalities but $12 million is going to the Buffalo Sewer Authority and $7 million to the Albany Municipal Water Finance Authority. Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow, whose city raised water and sewer rates to pay for water infrastructure renovations said that the program is likely something they would pursue. 

“My administration will have a very loud voice and display our severe need for funding,” Barlow said.

Miner has said in the past that she would be willing to look into loans to pay for infrastructure and she is hopeful about Cuomo's infrastructure proposals but with some questions.

“How are we going to be fiscally sustainable? How are we going to make sure that we spend it in an efficient way and that we’re not simply borrowing ourselves into oblivion to pay for these upgrades?” Miner asked.

Miner said it would cost about $750 million dollars to replace Syracuse’s 100-year-old water system. She said the most expensive part is digging down into the roads to get to the water mains.

“The best of all possible worlds would be if there’s money for roads, there’s money for water, there’s money for sewers and then we can combine them all and then we can do all three of them,” Miner said.

Cuomo’s state of the state also calls for a $22 billion investment to upgrade roads, especially upstate.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.