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Monticello strikes oil,
but it's not celebrating

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — August 6, 2010 — Village of Monticello officials are holding their breath as they await further study of oil found underneath the sewer plant on Waverly Avenue.
“Best-case scenario: we find a little oil that’s insignificant,” Village Manager John Barbarite told the village board at its meeting Tuesday night.
“Worst-case scenario: we could have a major toxic cleanup.”
The village’s engineering firm, Barton and Loguidice, discovered the oil two months ago about ten feet below ground while drilling test bores in anticipation of a major rehab of the sewer plant.
Though the extent and amount are not known, Barbarite said the oil is definitely not a naturally-occurring deposit. As a result, the village had to report it to the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which mandated a full study.
“We have to drill six holes [and] report the findings,” Barbarite explained. “If we find oil, we have to do laboratory tests on it.”
He added that officials had spent the past two months seeking the best price from firms that can do such work. Subsequently, the board authorized the hiring of the Budd Going company to complete the report at an anticipated cost of about $8,000.
Monticello has more to worry about than just the oil – the federal funding for the $15 million grant/loan to overhaul the sewer plant is uncertain due to financial issues. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture wrote the village earlier this summer that it “overextended” its grant promises and wants the village to split the project into two phases – neither of which are guaranteed to be funded.
Barbarite lamented that the discovery of the oil could commit the village to a cleanup even if the plant grant doesn’t come through.
“Probably they [Barton and Loguidice] shouldn’t have started the test borings,” he remarked. “... Now we’ve got to follow through with the next step.”
Insurance premium up
Though the board unanimously approved retaining Trident as its primary liability insurer, insurance broker Owen McKane advised officials that this year’s renewal comes with a 9.2 percent premium hike.
“The village has had a tough three years,” he explained during Tuesday’s meeting. “In the last three years, there’s been about a 73 percent loss ratio.”
McKane was speaking of the amount of claims payouts versus the amount the village pays to Trident for insurance.
“Over three years, a little over $348,000 was paid out [in claims],” he explained. “That’s pretty significant.”
He did note that on an annual basis, payouts have been decreasing – $173,000 in 2007-2008, $95,000 in 2008-2009, and $79,000 in 2009-2010.
“So it’s starting to go down, which is good,” McKane said.
But insurance companies look at the past five years when making offers, he added. In fact, one of Trident’s main competitors actually declined to cover Monticello because of that loss ratio.
“They really consider that high?” wondered Trustee Victor Marinello, comparing the village to other municipalities. “I don’t see how that’s really such a dramatic expense.”
“When it gets to 73 percent, they stop making money on it,” replied McKane, pointing out that he was successful in negotiating a lower rate ($207,000 for the year) than Trident initially wanted to charge the village.
On a lighter note, Deputy Mayor TC Hutchins observed that the village has terrorism coverage as part of the package.
“We had no claims on terrorism,” he confirmed with a grin.
In other business
• Sleepy Hollow Apartments has once again changed hands, said Barbarite. Since the prior owner did not undertake the promised renovations, the village is considering revoking a tax abatement it gave two years ago. Officials will first talk with the new owner.
• Add in Sullivan County’s 21 percent increase in the village’s premium for workmen’s compensation insurance, and the various insurance rate hikes faced by the village this year total $240,000, said Deputy Village Manager John LiGreci.
(County officials have since disputed that 21 percent amount, saying their calculations indicate the village's premium actually dropped by nearly seven percent.)
As a result, the village is shopping around for a better workmen’s comp. deal.
• Monticello is paying a $500 fine to the DEC after discrepancies were found in the village’s records regarding underground fuel tanks.
The board approved it after learning the DEC would otherwise slap the village with a $37,500 fine.
• A full-time village justice court clerk position is now open, said Barbarite, who’s looking for someone who can handle bookkeeping, bank deposits, purchasing, case scheduling, interagency coordination and supervising a part-time clerk.
The non-union job pays $34,000 a year plus benefits, with some night court sessions required.
Though hired by the board and Barbarite, the applicant is normally recommended by the judge (in this case, Justice Josephine Finn). The clerk does not have to be a Monticello resident.
“Basically, you serve at the pleasure of the judge,” Barbarite said.
Those interested can call him at 794-6130, ext. 13 to set up an interview.

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