CHATHAM–Attendance was sparse but the questions were plentiful last week at the Village Board hearing on a proposal to raise water and sewer service charges by over 150% in some cases.
Ahead of the February 9 hearing the board mailed all village water users a letter that outlined the need for the increases and showed how rates would change. The water system also extends southeast from the village down state Route 66 into the hamlet of Ghent, and some water customers outside village would also see an increase.
Mayor Tom Curran acknowledged at the hearing that the board had already determined to approve the rate increase. Only seven members of the public turned out. A heavy snowfall earlier that day was followed by frigid temperatures, but the residents who did show up asked detailed questions about the increases and by the end of the 50-minute hearing the board decided to continue the hearing later this month.
Chatham Mayor Tom Curran said at Thursday’s hearing, “We didn’t raise rates soon enough to keep up with expenses,” adding that federal officials had commented previously that Chatham has the lowest water rates east of the Mississippi. The mayor cited the $2 million for improvements to the sewer plant, $800,000 for a new water tower and $250,000 to paint the existing tower as among the factors contributing to the rate increases.
The letter sent to residents said even with the new rates, Chatham water users would be charged less for water than residents and businesses in the Villages of Philmont and Kinderhook.
That didn’t placate Chatham village residents Betty and Bob Proniske, who were upset by the size of the increases, which, if adopted, would raise the total amount of money collected from water use in the village from $127,000 in the current budget to $379,000 in the new budget that takes effect in June. The total charges for sewer service would increase from $260,000 to $416,000. Residents in Chatham will “be afraid to turn the water faucet on,” Mr. Proniske predicted.
“How did you come up with the rates?” asked resident Francis Iaconetti.
Village Clerk/Treasurer Barbara Henry said she had started with the figures for the upcoming fiscal year budget for water and sewer services and applied the actual water consumption figures for the current year. She also said, “Both water and sewer had deficits last year.”
The new rates use an approach different from the one used in the past; the new bills would charge only for the amount of water consumed.
“Nobody’s rates will go down,” said Ms. Henry.
Tom Crowell, co-owner of Chatham Brewing, said his company was one of the largest users of village water. He was skeptical of the need for such large increases. “Operating costs can’t suddenly go up two-and-a-half times” in a single year, he said.
Mr. Crowell, addressing the mayor’s statement about the costs of borrowing for improvement projects, said, “I’m just baffled that a 30-year bond could result in the doubling of the bills.”
The mayor said during the hearing that because the new rates would not have a basic fee, users would be able to lower their bills by lowering their water consumption.
But Ms. Proniske said she and her husband collect rainfall in barrels and didn’t always flush the toilet at night. “We already conserve,” she said.
The mayor said the board would provide additional information requested by Mr. Iaconetti and review the rates again.
The new hearing is scheduled for February 23 and will start after 6:30 p.m. at the Tracy Memorial Village Hall.
In business at the regular meeting that followed the hearing:
• The monthly police report submitted by Chief Peter Volkmann and read by the mayor said that 70 people have been helped to find and receive treatment for addiction through the Police Department’s Chatham Cares 4 U (CC4U) program since it began last summer.
The department has also completed the training of a new group of CC4U “Angels,” citizen volunteers who provide help and support when people who are addicted to drugs are taken by Chatham Police to treatment facilities
• Clerk/Treasurer Henry reported that as the result of a software problem the village did not withhold the correct amount of federal taxes from checks issued to employees and will now have to make adjustments in the months ahead. Ms. Henry said she had been told that at least 20 other municipalities faced a similar problem. She said the village did pay the correct amount of taxes to the federal government
• The board scheduled a hearing February 23 at 6:30 p.m. on the proposal to reduce the weight limit on Austerlitz Street to 5 tons. The reason for the limit is to reduce truck traffic on the street. Google Maps offers the street as a shortcut for trucks entering or leaving Chatham with no indication of how steep it is, especially at the intersection with state Route 203. Ms. Henry said when the weight limit is official and posted Google Maps will be notified
• Sue Sperl-Knights representing CABA (Chatham Area Business and Arts), followed up on a letter sent to Village Board members in which the organization requests clarification on how the village would prefer to handle the costs of police assistance at CABA’s major events like Summerfest. CABA also runs Winterfest in December and October Feast in the fall.
Mayor Curran said he would talk with the town attorney about the matter
• Ms. Henry said that someone brought a lost dog to the clerk’s office recently. The clerk took a photo of the dog and uploaded it to the town’s Facebook page, “and within a minute” of the post appearing the owner of the dog showed up at village hall and reclaimed the pooch.
The next meeting of the Chatham Village Board is February starting at 6:30 p.m. for the Austerlitz Street weight limit hearing, followed by the resumption of the water/sewer fee changes, with the board meeting beginning at 7:30 p.m.
Parry Teasdale is a customer of the Village of Chatham water and sewer systems.
To contact Parry Teasdale email