New Paltz Village Board votes to raise water and sewer rates

Village of New Paltz residents will soon see a 20 percent increase in their water/sewer rates. The Village Board approved the increase unanimously after closing a public hearing and listening to the suggestions of the consultants: Keough Consulting of Oneonta, whom it had retained to make recommendations on their water/sewer rates. According to mayor Jason West, the rates have not been raised since 2005, back when he was first elected mayor.

Margery Merzig summarized Keough Consulting’s recommendations to the board, noting that the types of water/sewer rent systems fall into three categories: flat rate, bulk rate and conservation pricing. She said that the Village of New Paltz falls into the latter category. The village’s water and sewer system “finds itself in need of increasing its revenue, facing steep supply costs and infrastructure needs, while serving a residential population whose usage is greatly outstripped by several large institutional users who are driving the costs of the system for capacity and treatment.”

To address that disparity, the consultants suggested an arrangement in which there will be a 20 percent increase across the board, but then higher-usage customers will see an additional ten percent increase in their water rates when their usage exceeds 20,000 gallons per quarter. “Basically,” Merzig said, “under conservation pricing, the more water that is used, the more the customer pays in volume…it encourages water conservation by the largest users and recognizes the impact of large consumers on the system.”

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Asked by the New Paltz Times to put the 20 percent in real-dollar terms, Merzig said that it would equate to “$2.75 more per quarter,” or in another hypothetical example, “going from $64 per year right now would increase to $75.”

The board voted to raise the sewer rates as recommended by the consultants, and also to hike the fees for water/sewer shutoffs and turn-ons. After reviewing the figures with the Department of Public Works, Keough Consultants felt that “the village is losing money because the fees are less than the cost of sending an employee out to shut off a line or turn it back on,” said David Merzig.

The consultants said that they would help to implement the new pricing and continue to work with the billing department, should questions or problems arise.

“Do water/sewer increases generally bring people out to a public hearing? Because there’s no one here to speak on it, which makes me uncomfortable,” said trustee Brian Kimbiz.

Margery Merzig said that in her experience with the firm, which works with ten municipalities in upstate New York, “Generally, no. Water and sewer are esoteric, ho-hum subjects. But you will hear from people once they get their first bill!”

The board all concurred that it was time to raise the rates. “While no one wants to see an increase, if we don’t keep up with the rates, then we’re forced to take money from reserves, and that puts us in trouble if we need emergency repairs or replacements,” said trustee Stewart Glenn. “Keeping our systems’ integrity and in good shape is our objective, and I think raising the rates is the prudent thing to do.”

Although Kimbiz and trustee Ariana Basco did admit that they’d rather have public input prior to the vote, they said that they didn’t believe that they’d hear anything that would change their minds. “The public has had adequate notification,” said deputy mayor Sally Rhoads. “It’s been discussed at our meetings; is available on local access television; legal notices were published. If they don’t chose to come out, it’s not because we didn’t make it public knowledge.”

The board voted unanimously to raise all rates.

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