Mayor dismisses critic’s charge on expenses for electric plant

09/02/2010 12:00 AM |

Rebuilding engine No. 6 at the Greenport Municipal Light Plant last month was part of the early stages of a major utility upgrade. Mayor David Nyce disputes claims by a former trustee that he has overspent on engineering fees and lacks enough money to complete phase one of the project.

Greenport Mayor David Nyce disputed claims Thursday that the current Village Board squandered so much money on engineering fees rehabilitating the Greenport Electric Plant that it does not have enough borrowing capacity to complete the initial phase of the $5 million upgrade.

Former trustee Bill Swiskey has claimed the board had spent $677,000 on fees for Genesys Engineering and that it can now borrow only about $900,000 more and that won’t cover the costs of replacing switch gear and purchasing and installing a backup transformer.

The mayor said last week that Mr. Swiskey was wrong. In addition to fees for Genesys, the $677,000 figure covered an upgrade to the electric distribution system approved by the previous administration in 2004, the installation of electric cable through Moores Woods some years ago, and a 2005-06 rate case study.

This administration has spent $226,000 on engineering fees, Mr. Nyce said.

The mayor’s comments were made during an interview at Village Hall last Thursday following Mr. Swiskey’s statements at a Village Board meeting earlier in the week.

Mr. Swiskey said at least 50 percent of the money planned for the initial phase of the electric plant upgrade was for engineering fees that shouldn’t account for more than 10 percent of the total project cost.

Mr. Nyce’s numbers indicate that engineering expenses will average about 20 percent of the overall cost of the project, which he said is about 5 percent complete. Engineering fees are higher when retrofitting changes to an existing system than they would be for a totally new system, he said.

The previous administration twice borrowed $200,000 for the project and those bonds are nearly paid off, said village treasurer Charlene Kagel. Only about $30,000 remains to retire the last of that $400,000 debt, she said.

Since Mr. Nyce was elected in 2007, he said he has largely taken a “pay as you go” approach to the project rather than incur new debt while the village continues to pay down bonds taken by the previous administration, mostly for the development of Mitchell Park.

The New York Power Authority, which is the oversight agency for the local electric company, wanted the village to begin bonding for the project back in 2007, the mayor said. He balked at taking on more debt, and has been able to have electric plant staff tackle some of the upgrade work.

The administration still has about $1.1 million authorized for the upgrade and Genesys principal Bob Braun has estimated that the money should be enough to pay for switch gear and a new transformer, Mr. Nyce said. Even with possible cost overruns, the village will have 90 to 95 percent of the money necessary for that part of the project, he said.

Mr. Braun has been working with plant employees to clean up three operating engines, all of which are now in good condition, according to the engineer. But the mayor acknowledged that one of the engines has a cooling system that isn’t functioning correctly and it can’t be used until that problem is addressed.

The village has two more engines it obtained from government surplus that should satisfy engine needs for the foreseeable future, Mr. Braun told the Village Board at a meeting in early August.

The village has been unable to win NYPA approval for any rate hikes since 2007, but the mayor said he hopes when the current phase of work is complete, the agency might consider allowing an increase that would help provide revenue for the next phase of the upgrade. He estimated that the work would be completed by the fall of 2011.

Even if NYPA eventually approves an increase, ratepayers would still be paying more than 30 percent less for power than their neighbors pay to Long Island Power Authority for electricity, Mr. Braun said when he met with the Village Board in early August.

In a telephone interview Friday morning, Mr. Swiskey continued to insist that the figures Mr. Nyce and Ms. Kagel supplied were incorrect. “The mayor is a liar,” he said.

Mr. Swiskey charged that the village’s claim is untrue that, in an emergency, it could generate the amount of power mandated to avoid a Long Island Unused Capacity tax of up to $500,000.

The village is supposed to conduct an annual test of its ability to generate that power and Mr. Swiskey said Mr. Braun has caused problems at the plant by pushing the engines beyond their ability to perform.

“I say they can’t do it,” Mr. Swiskey said about the village’s ability to generate the power.

Mr. Swiskey has been critical of Mr. Braun since the consultant was hired in 2008 and made suggestions about priorities for upgrading the light plant.

“Why are they continuing to employ this man?” Mr. Swiskey asked.

Mr. Braun didn’t respond to e-mailed questions about Mr. Swiskey’s comments.

[email protected]