MOUNT VERNON, NY — August 7, 2018 — On Monday, August 6, 2018, I had hoped the Board of Estimate would have approved the $67,000 needed to fund the post of City Engineer, a position that state and federal regulators have called essential for bringing Mount Vernon into compliance with the Clean Water Act.
But the Mount Vernon Comptroller and the City Council representative were no shows. They were also no-shows at Friday’s meeting. These failures to act could have devastating consequences because Monday was the deadline for the city to show the Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency the good faith efforts Mount Vernon is making to end years of pollution.
The Department of Justice (DoJ) and the New York State Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are not interested in excuses and delays. They have been waiting since 2008. Our choice is clear: We can verify by votes and actions that we are serious about compliance, and they will work collaboratively with us, or we can obstruct, and they will bring down the full force of the law and crush our taxpayers.
Having lost patience after 10-years of delays, the DoJ and EPA sued Mount Vernon in June to compel the city to stop the “illicit discharges” from its aging sewers into the Hutchinson and Bronx Rivers. Mount Vernon’s taxpayers are facing fines that can reach $37,500 a day per violation dating back to at least January 2012. Every $1 million hikes property taxes by 2%.
I have pledged the city’s commitment to compliance, but I need the support of the City Council and Comptroller to fund the City Engineer and several other posts that are necessary to begin the remedial work on the sewers.
The Mount Vernon Youth Council voted yes to fund the role of City Engineer because they know how important our environment is and they understand how serious this situation is for the City of Mount Vernon.
Simply put, we can’t get started fixing our sewers without a City Engineer. This is the person who moves the project from plans and drawings to the actual work. Equally important the role can’t be outsourced because the City Engineer is Mount Vernon’s representative on the job, who is there to protect the many financial, legal, and environmental interests of our residents.
My proposal to fund the position of City Engineer at roughly $67,900 for the remainder of the year would not increase the 2018 budget. It would be paid from savings accrued in the Department of Public Works, which is where the City Engineer resides.
Curtis Woods, a former Commissioner of the Buildings Department, who has all the necessary qualifications, is ready to take the job. In fact, he has been filling it for two months, but has not been paid. He has indicated that he will walk away from the job if the pay situation is not resolved this week.
The City Engineer is responsible for overseeing the inspection of 600,000 linear feet of pipes and drains, which should take 18 to 24 months and will help prioritize the sequence of the overall compliance plan. Five outfalls feeding into The Bronx and Hutchinson Rivers have been cited as initial focus areas.
The estimated cost of the inspection phase is $1.8 million. However, Mount Vernon is eligible for a $1.6 million grant from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Full compliance will probably take at least a decade carry a multi-million-dollar price tag, which includes the cost of the work, plus fines.
Bottom line: We need to show the government, we are working with them. Otherwise, the financial consequences for the city could be devastating.
SOURCE: Mayor Richard Thomas, Press Office.