Tusten makes town hall decision

By LIAM MAYO
Posted 5/18/22

TUSTEN, NY — It’s a rare town board meeting where a $3 million grant is the second most discussed item on the agenda.

The Town of Tusten opened its May 10 board meeting by announcing a …

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Tusten makes town hall decision

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TUSTEN, NY — It’s a rare town board meeting where a $3 million grant is the second most discussed item on the agenda.

The Town of Tusten opened its May 10 board meeting by announcing a $3 million grant from New York State’s Water Infrastructure Improvement Act (WIIA) for improvements to the town’s municipal water system.

In making itself more attractive to grant funding, the town board raised water rates for the system’s users last year, with an average family going from paying around $142 a year to around $127 a quarter. That increase took effect December 31.

Raising rates was one component of funding what will be $7.5 million in repairs to Tusten’s water infrastructure. WIIA grants help municipalities pay for infrastructure improvements in their water and sewer systems. They support the construction, repair or replacement of infrastructure and compliance with water quality regulations.

Board member Jane Luchsinger heads Tusten’s grants committee and was instrumental in getting the WIIA grant. At the May 10 board meeting, she said that the town can keep applying for grant funding until the job is done, and that the town’s first order of business with the current grant will likely be to work on the town’s water storage tank.

Tusten has been discussing repairs to its water infrastructure for decades. The system’s pipes, water mains and fire hydrants are of varying ages and standards, with some water mains as much as 95 years old; and the town’s water storage tank is over 70 years old and in need of rehabilitation or replacement.

A new Main Street shop?

The WIIA grant received a full round of applause as it was announced. What received a full discussion was the debate about what to do with 93 Main St.

The board held a public hearing the previous week to solicit advice from residents on what to do with the town’s municipal buildings—210 Bridge St., the current and historic town hall, and 93 Main St., a former Wayne Bank location that the town acquired for its parking lot last year. On May 10, the board reviewed its options and the opinions of the town.

One option went off the table immediately. The board had previously discussed moving the town hall into 93 Main St. and selling 210 Bridge St. The majority of voices at the public hearing opposed the move, and the board agreed to respect that sentiment and take the move off the table.

“It’s hard for me to be excited about going somewhere we aren’t wanted,” said supervisor Ben Johnson.

On the flipside, the town couldn’t sell 93 Main St. without losing that building’s municipal parking lot, something the board didn’t want to do. According to town attorney Ken Kline, splitting the building from the parking lot and selling the building while keeping the parking lot would create a substandard lot, and would go against the town’s zoning.

The choice that remained between these two undesirable outcomes involves renting 93 Main St., likely to a commercial business.

The board, in particular Luchsinger, expressed an interest in having that rental occur as quickly as possible. Kline laid out a fairly extensive timeline that the town would have to follow even if it wanted to expedite that process.

Tusten would first need to determine a fair market value for renting out 93 Main St. Whether that determination came from a full-fledged approval or from a survey of Main Street business owners, it would need to be rigorous enough to hold up to legal challenges.

Once the town had that determination, it could go out and look for a tenant and negotiate terms. The town could tentatively sign an agreement once it was negotiated, but that agreement would not be final until the time for a permissive referendum had passed, adding 30 days to the process.

The board voted to pursue the necessary steps as Kline had laid them out for renting 93 Main St.; board member Kevin McDonough cast the only dissenting vote, having proposed earlier in the meeting moving the town’s offices to 93 Main St. and renting out the space in 210 Bridge St. thereby vacated, while keeping that building’s meeting space.

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