My turn Gedalye Szegedin Kiryas Joel’s watershed moment

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Water is among the most fundamental human needs. Nothing survives without water. The Village of Kiryas Joel is not immune to the need for water. In the four decades since Kiryas Joel was founded, the Village’s population has grown to over 23,000 people. The need for water often exceeds our current ability to provide it for the residents of our community. Our wells can marginally meet our peak water demands, yet during extended periods of highest demand, water must be trucked into the Village.

As our population grows, we will continue to struggle to meet our obligation to provide basic services to our residents.

That is why we began planning nearly 20 years ago to tap into the New York City Aqueduct. When it was established by an act of the New York State Legislature in 1905, that statute dictated that any town, village, city or water district situated in counties where the city maintains its water infrastructure has an “absolute right to tap New York City's supply.”

The Village of Kiryas Joel began the long and difficult process of accessing that source of water which would provide an adequate supply to its growing community.

However, nearly two decades later the project remains unfinished. While we have made great efforts to complete it, there have been many roadblocks along the way. The most recent involved litigation, eventually unsuccessful, on the part of neighboring communities to stifle the process by preventing use of the pipeline.

The Times Herald-Record recently reported that the Village of Kiryas Joel and the Town of Woodbury are at an impasse regarding the tax assessment on the pipeline project. In our view that reporting did not fully or fairly depict the Village’s position. We contend that it is unfair and inappropriate to impose a tax on a pipeline that we are not able to use yet (in significant part due to the burdensome litigation the town maintained to prohibit its use).

We recognize that there are examples of communities taxing the utilities and infrastructure of other municipalities that pass through the taxing jurisdiction; New York City pays taxes to communities where its reservoirs are located.

Likewise, the infrastructure of public utilities is often taxed by the host municipality.

However, in many cases, neighboring municipalities are granted full exemptions and it is routine for public utility companies to negotiate agreements with communities over taxes for electrical transmission and gas lines. We do not raise issue with the concept of taxation, but we do challenge the circumstances in which that taxation was imposed. We believe that the issues that we face with Woodbury can be resolved in a better way, through fair and proper negotiation over the value of our pipeline - once it is operational.

While the residents of Kiryas Joel will be the immediate beneficiaries of the pipeline completion, ultimately all of Orange County will benefit because once we begin accessing water from the NYC Aqueduct, we will no longer be reliant on local wells as our primary source for water. Further, our pipeline establishes a template for other communities to follow.

In the end, we would always prefer to negotiate and work with our neighbors. As we showed with the formation of the Town of Palm Tree, together we can find solutions that all sides benefit from and maintain lasting peace among our communities.

That will be a watershed moment for not just Kiryas Joel and Woodbury, but all of Orange County.

Gedalye Szegedin is the Village Administrator of the Village of Kiryas Joel.
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