Chatham has water but at what price?

CHATHAM–It’s complicated… and expensive. After another lengthy workshop on water and sewer rates, the Village Board last week raised rates for the second time in less than two years. This time the increase was 65%.

More than a dozen people filled the Village Hall Thursday evening, May 24 to go over an eight-page report detailing how the village arrived at the fiscal year just ending with a $370,000 deficit for water and sewer services–a shortfall more than twice as big as in each of the previous two years. The report, much of which was written by Village Board member Mike Wollowitz, says that labor and materials account for the biggest cost increases.

By law the board can’t use tax money from the village general fund to retire the districts’ debt; the 700 water customers in the village and another 150 customers outside village limits must pay for the shortfall in their water and sewer bills. For many, the rate they pay will have doubled over the last two years.

Village officials say they have been trying for several years to catch up with maintenance and replacement of village infrastructure. The state has required Chatham to close its small reservoir and replace it with a new, closed tank. In addition to the state’s concern over water quality, the reservoir has been leaking as much as 50,000 gallons a day at a time when water consumption by village residents has gone down.

Residents who attended board meetings on the rates have demanded to know why the board didn’t act sooner to address the deficit when the rates were increased last year. “The rate increase did not bring in the revenues” that the village anticipated from the first price hike, Village Treasurer Barbara Henry said at the May 24 meeting.

The number of customers is not large enough to keep rates lower and the only long-term way to expand the customer base is to increase residential development in the village.

Village resident John Howe said some of the figures in the sewer report “don’t add up” and he repeated his request that the board ask the Office of the State Comptroller to audit the water and sewer finances.

“You really need to look at cutting services,” said property owner Rusty Vazac. Without water and sewer “the village can’t be here,” he said, but that was not true of the village Police Department. “People want police protection but I don’t think it has to say ‘Chatham police,’” Mr. Vazac said.

Police Chief Peter Volkmann was present at the meeting but did not respond to the comment, nor did members of the board. The annual budget for the village has already been adopted.

At the regular meeting following the session on the water and sewer, the board voted in favor of adopting the new higher fees for the services. Trustees Lenore Packet and Wollowitz along with Mayor Tom Curran voted in favor. Trustee Gunner Worden voted no. Trustee Jay Rippel was absent.

The new rates take effect June 1.

After a brief discussion, board members decided to postpone until the next meeting a decision on requesting a state audit. The mayor said that would allow the board to “know what we’re up against.”

In other business May 24:

• The board approved a two-year contract with County Waste for village garbage and recyclables collection. All those present voted in favor of renewing the $82,000/per year agreement. It was the only bid the village had received for the service

• The village open container law affecting alcoholic beverages was suspended by the board for the CABA Chatham Summerfest event July 7 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

• Village Clerk Debra Meyers announced that the Chatham Farmers Market would open June 1 and would continue weekly through October 12

• After an executive session at the end of the meeting, trustees reopened the meeting to authorized the mayor to sign a collective bargaining agreement with the village Police Department for a 3% annual raise retroactive from June 1, 2017

• The village agreed to accept the donation of a flowering tree from resident Melanie Hoopes, who asked that it be dedicated to the CC4U (Chatham Cares for You) program created by Chief Volkmann. The Police Department program finds treatment beds for people with addictions.

“It’s been a lifesaver for us,” said Ms. Hoopes, who said she has a daughter in recovery.

The next meeting of the Village Board is June 14 at 7 p.m. at Tracy Memorial Village Hall.

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