Like our outrageously high City property taxes, our City water and sewer charges are way out of line with our regional counterparts. Why is that? And what could we do about it? There’s a long answer, that is really long. Here’s the short answer, that gets right to the point:
The City pipes water out to customers in water districts outside of the City limit. We also pipe in and treat sewage from non-residents. We charge them, but the rates they pay don’t cover our total costs, the infrastructure.
When it comes to the specific issue of sewage, the City maintains a well-run wastewater treatment plan with high standards for purifying the ‘effluent’ that gets discharged back into
As a consequence, the City has been required to upgrade and expand our infrastructure. That’s what that “DEC Consent Order” is all about.
The reality of the situation couldn’t be clearer: Town users of City services are getting them at below-market rates. That’s because they are subsidized by City users. It’s time to do what every surrounding community in this situation does: Charge the town at least what city residents have to bear. Better yet, add a premium, like many communities do!
This is not to say that Town residents have refused to pay. We. the City have just failed to adequately bill. At the risk of some technicalities, here’s why:
- Town users have two meter systems: one for water taken out of the system and one for sewage put back in. The town bill is calculated based on that actual usage. By contrast, city residents have one meter. It is assumed that whatever water is taken into the building equals the sewage put back out. But think about the way you use water, not every drop goes back down the drain. What about filling a pool, watering the lawn, running a boiler? We actually believe that having only one meter makes sense, because the cost of installing and monitoring separate meters for every property is simply not feasible. But, this is one example of the way town residents get discounted services.
- The water and sewer rates are calculated based on expenses and debt services paid by city residents. Right now, non-city users pay a slight premium on both water and sewer rates. But while it covers the ongoing treatment costs for their usage, it is in no way proportional to the cost and debt service for the facility upgrades that are required to continue providing the quality service. This is a major failing of the previous sewer agreement that expired four years ago. And it needs to be remedied immediately!
- About that sewer agreement, the city and town operated for 20 years under an agreement that locked town rates in at unacceptably low levels. Since the contract lapsed, four years ago, there has been a reluctance on the part of the Town to accept its role as a partner in providing this essential service. If it did so, it would enter into a contract that shared the real costs proportionally with city residents. However, the city administration has been all too content to have city residents continue to subsidize town users by not being more forceful in the negotiations.