Cool, clear, costlier: Chatham hikes water rates

CHATHAM–Village Board is raising the water and sewer rates, effective March 1. The board took the action following a continuation of a public hearing on the increases February 23 at which several residents questioned the need for the increase and how it would affect them. The vote was unanimous.

The board also held a public hearing earlier in the meeting on a proposal to set a weight limit on Austerlitz Street of 5 tons in an effort to stop trucks from using it as route through the village. “Large trucks should be prohibited from Austerlitz Street,” Mayor Tom Curran said of the weight limit.

Several residents of the street attended the public hearing and thanked the board for considering the change. They talked about large trucks shaking their houses as they go down the street, which connects Route 203 to Routes 295 and 66.

The board plans to vote on adopting the weight limit at their next meeting after closing the public hearing.

The proposal to increase water and sewer rates was announced several weeks ago in a mailing to all water district customers followed by a public hearing February 9. A handful of village residents attended the initial hearing and questioned the amount of the rate hikes. Rather than close the hearing February 9, the board adjourned it and reopened the hearing last week, with about a dozen residents present.

The new rates will change to .045 cents per cubic foot of water used and .045 cents for sewer, which is calculated by how much water a property uses.

There is also a village water main that runs south from the village into the hamlet of Ghent, and the water rate outside the village will change to .09 cents/cubic foot for water. There are no residential customers outside the village connected to the sewer system. There are special new rates for Price Chopper and the Chatham School District.

The board is getting rid of the current minimum fee, which used to set the minimum fee for water customers who used less than 1,000 cubic feet of water in a quarter year. The new rates will bill only for the exact amount of water used.

Mayor Curran said that this approach would result in an increase for most users. He said costs are going up to operate and maintain the system. He talked about a project to build a tank at the open reservoir, which has been leaking 50,000 gallons a day for several years. He also talked about upgrades to the water lines on village streets, including a plan to update the lines on Austerlitz Street in the near future.

“Water costs are going up,” he said.

Addressing the need for upgrades to the system, Village Clerk/Treasurer Barbara Henry said at the meeting, “The cost is figured into the proposed water rates for the next two years.” She also pointed out that right now there is a deficit of $175,000 in the sewer department budget.

Several residents spoke of being surprised when they got the letter from the village listing the proposed water rates. One resident asked during the public hearing, “Is this a done deal?”

Trustee Lenore Packet said that the village water rates are the lowest in the area.

“After the increase our rates will still be so low,” said Trustee Gunnar Wordon.

Trustee Jay Rippel said that water and sewer expenses have been an issue for the board for several years. “This isn’t new, we’ve been talking water since I got on the board,” he said.

He added that the new rates will be based on usage so that it will help to “fix that leaky faucet.”

Ms. Packet echoed that later in the meeting, saying the important thing about the change is that residents will be “paying for what you use.”

The board has also received grants and low interest loans to cover the some of the major upgrades, like the work at the reservoir. Ms. Packet said that the board was told by lenders that the village water and sewer rates were too low.

Mayor Curran also warned that rates could go up more as more upgrades are needed. “It’s not likely to go down,” he said of the rates.

He said of this increase in rates, “We are increasing as gradually as we can…. We really have to catch up now.”

“Anyone who comes here, we will sit down with you,” said Ms. Henry, who offered to review the water and sewer bills with customers confused by the rates who come to the clerk’s office at the Tracy Memorial Village Hall.

Users will still see charges based on the old rate in the next bill they receive. Ms. Henry said that information about the changes will go out with the bill.

When asked by a resident why the change was happening now, Mr. Curran said, “I don’t think we realized how fast our deficit was growing until this year.” He also said that upgrades and maintenance costs never go away. “There is no end of projects,” the mayor said.

The next village meeting will be March 9 at 7 p.m. in the Tracy Memorial.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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