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Town, city continue review of water rates

Saturday, December 15, 2012 - Updated: 6:29 PM

By HEATHER NELLIS

Recorder News Staff

Officials from the city and town of Amsterdam are reviewing the city's new water billing structure to ensure compliance with contracted rates.

Both town and city officials agree the primary issue is whether single-family residential users in the town are paying 1.5 times the rate paid by those users in the city, which is guaranteed by an intermunicipal contract for water service.

Amsterdam town Supervisor Thomas DiMezza said he reviewed the rate structure with town engineers since the city made changes in July. Their numbers indicate the single-family residential users could be paying closer to 1.85 times the rate paid by city users.

He detailed his concerns in a letter he recently wrote to city officials, which resulted in a meeting last month that prompted both sides to work together in taking a closer look at the rates.

"We discussed how we got to where we are today, and how there's room for improvement," said town Attorney Charles Schwartz. "The negative impact on residential users was an unintended consequence, and everyone wants to make sure it's fair."

City officials say the changes, which became effective July 1 as part of the adopted 2012-13 budget, were an effort to correct disparities in the system and implemented because of a difficult budget season.

Under the former system, metered users were charged a flat rate for a set amount of water. Now, metered users pay for how much water they use, plus a distribution fee.

The changes took many users in the towns of Amsterdam and Florida by surprise, and considering the summer's drought, some bills increased exponentially.

In the letter, DiMezza calculated that a "typical" single-family city residence is paying $14 less per year for water, but a typical single-family town residence is paying $100 more.

"This discrepancy is clearly not in keeping with the spirit of the 2009 agreements," DiMezza's letter reads.

Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis wouldn't go so far to agree some town residents are paying 1.85 times the city rate, but said the issue is being reviewed.

"It's not clear yet. We need to gather data and compute the rates because the first quarter was built on high usage, so it's hard to base the estimate off one quarter," he said.

To his knowledge, DeCusatis believes the town's engineering company is preparing a spread sheet of water counts and usages in determining whether or not the current billing is fair.

"It's not something that can be done in the space of a week," DeCusatis said. "For a change like this, it changes behavior, so it may affect the amounts used, plus other different factors, like seasonal variations. We have to make sure we're looking at a full years' worth of data. In such a short time slice [since the changes were implemented], it would be hard to make a good comparison."

DeCusatis said officials could use historic data, but again pointed to how the new rates may change usage.

"People who will be filling their swimming pools off their system may elect to have someone fill it with a tanker truck," he said.

DiMezza said the town has sent letters to residents warning them to watch their usage and to fix leaks and dripping faucets.

"We're letting them know usage means dollars," he said.

Should the rates be tweaked, DiMezza isn't sure there's a potential for a great decrease in bills. At best, there's a hope there won't be an exponential increase if someone exceeds the average usage.

"I think there might be a slight decrease for most people, bringing it back to normality. For some people who don't use much water, they might even see their basic charge lowered. But I think people will be satisfied either way, and the city is willing to work with us. I'd say things are on the positive side right now, and hopefully we can make some headway."

Florida town Supervisor William Strevy said he was happy to hear the issue is being tended to. He had met with city officials after the changes were first made, but said there wasn't any room for movement at that time.

"We certainly don't have the same kind of leverage as the town of Amsterdam, because we have a small water district on this side, but I'm happy to hear the rates could go down, even if it's six months to a year from now."

     

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