Flushing money down the drain

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Some Orchard Park residents are fed up over not having public sewers despite paying sewer taxes for decades

Before John Vinti bought his Orchard Park home in 1979 he wanted to be sure that the town had plans to service the neighborhood with sewers.  

“In three years,” Vinti said town officials told him back in 1979.

That was enough assurance for him. He signed on the dotted line, bought the house and counted the days when he could finally say goodbye to a septic system.

Forty years later, he’s still waiting.

And so are about 30 of his neighbors who all live on Powers Road, one of the last areas in the Town of Orchard Park that are in a sewer district but still do not have sewers.

Vinti estimated that he and his neighbors each have paid several thousands in sewer taxes to both the Town of Orchard Park and Erie County for building and maintaining sewers in other neighborhoods.

“It’s cruel and it’s unnecessary,” Vinti said during an interview at his home.

He was joined by four neighbors, who shared coffee and banana bread while they aired their frustration over what they described as “an injustice.”

“So, if you’ve had 50 years to put sewers in and you haven’t done it, it’s time to realize that you’re abusing your residents,” Vinti said.

John Vinti says he’s been paying sewer taxes for decades and he still does not have public sewer for his home in Orchard Park.

A half-mile section of Powers Road is one of the last remaining parts of the town expected to get sewers but still do not have any. They are in two different sewer districts, one by the town and the other by the county. They pay taxes in both districts.

In June, Vinti submitted a petition signed by about 30 of his neighbors on Powers Road to temporarily remove them from the town’s sewer district and refund them for previously paid bills.

He said the town ignored him.

“It’s getting greedy,” Vinti said. We’re paying over $100 a year for sewers that we don’t have.”

Orchard Park Supervisor Patrick Keem said he sympathizes with the residents.

“I asked for a timeframe and I can’t get one because all these studies have to be done and it takes time to do all that,” Keem said.

“And we can’t actually pinpoint how much time, but certainly they are a lot closer to getting sewers than they were six years ago when I was elected for the first time.”

Milton Bradshaw, the town’s assessor, said the residents without sewers on Powers Road are paying a “minimal tax” compared with residents who do have sewers.

For example, the town budgeted $1,620 in sewer taxes from those residents without sewers compared to the $38,265 in sewer taxes for this with sewers.

In addition, Bradshaw said the lion’s share of their bills are the county tax for Sewer District 3, which serves the Town of Hamburg, Village of Hamburg, Blasdell, Boston, Orchard Park, and Eden.

Wayne Bieler, the town’s engineer, said the town will likely have to build a $500,000 pump station to service that section of Powers Road. 

Vinti said he’s heard these excuses before. He and his neighbors got even more agitated when they spotted a legal notice in the newspaper that the town would be seeking a $2.4 million bond to make repairs and updates to sewers in other parts of the town without any work included to add sewers on Powers Road.

“I made it clear that people have been living here and dying here paying sewer taxes,” Vinti said.

“Norm Winkler. Ralph Warner. Mr. Brock. The Clintons. There all people who have lived and died paying the sewer tax.”

Joseph Fiegl, deputy commissioner of Erie County’s division of sewerage management, said the situation on Powers Road is different because the town would need to extend the sewers, not the county. He said the only reason these homeowners are in a county sewer district is because that area is serviced by a county trunk interceptor that delivers sewage to the Southtowns wastewater treatment plant.

Fiegl said there is a community benefit to being in a sewer district, including cleaner lakes and streams, along with the potential for service in the future. Anyone in this sewer district without sewers does not pay the full tax in the county, either, he said.

There is a silver lining, though.

Septic tanks, which are basically small treatment plants homes that lack public sewer, have to be cleaned out every three to five years.

Fiegl said any homeowner in this sewer district – Erie County Sewer District No. 3 – can apply for a partial refund of their sewer charges if they dispose of the waste in their septic tanks at the Southtowns treatment plant.

As for the town, Keem said they did investigate whether it could refund the residents some of the tax payments.

“But legally we can’t do that, so we’re kind of stuck,” Keem said.

If the residents on Powers Road want to be carved out of the town’s sewer district then they would need to get permission from 51 percent of homeowners within the same district, Keem said. That’s thousands of residents.

“They are not getting out of the district and I doubt if they are getting any refund,” Keem said.

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