Residents air concerns on water rate hike
UTICA — Mohawk Valley residents voiced their opposition to the Mohawk Valley Water Authority’s proposed rate increase at a public hearing on Monday, Oct. 17.
The MVWA Board of Directors is considering increasing the water rate by 4.85%, which, if approved, will cost $1.72 per month, or $20.60 per year for a family of four.
Patrick Becher, executive director for the MVWA, said that water bills are split into two or three parts. One part is water consumption, the other is the county sewer charge, and in Marcy and Utica, there is a charge for the Marcy and Utica sewer departments. This proposed increase will only impact water consumption.
“We have an aging system, as you know, we have pipes in the ground that are over 150 years old,” Becher said. “We have roughly 700 miles of piping in our distribution system that carries water to our homes and businesses, a third of that is over 100 years old and getting older. So that requires a lot of maintenance.”
Becher said there are multiple water main breaks every week and in the winter, there can be one per day.
“Right now, the way the rates have been set over the years, we haven’t been able to rehabilitate or replace even a mile of piping,” Becher said. “Because we’ve had other priorities like building tanks for fire protection, upgrading pumps, all those things.”
“The result of that is our piping system is on, at minimum, a 700-year replacement cycle, which as you can imagine, doesn’t work out very well,” he added.
Becher said increased costs from inflation have also impacted the MVWA’s budget, because prices for chlorine, new pipes, fire hydrants, new meters and vehicles have increased greatly.
He said the way that the MVWA will fund its pipe replacement is through a capital project where the MVWA will borrow $5 million over 20-30 years, and will build debt payments into the budget.
The proposed 2023 budget includes $550,000 to cover future debt payments.
“What our board does every year, we have to figure out what’s the right balance between being responsible to today’s users and future users, versus how much the community can afford and what level of maintenance can keep going to make sure the system functions properly,” Becher said.
Becher said that in the past few years, there has been a decrease in water use due to increasing installation of water-efficient products in homes, but the opening of the Wolfspeed silicon carbide plant in Marcy has led to an increase in water use.
Utica Resident Carmella De Carlo said she is against the increase because of how everyday items like food and gas have gone up in costs.
“I’m a widow. I live on social security, and it’s very hard to even keep my home,” she said. “I’m having a terrible time trying to make ends meet.”
Becher said programs like New York’s Low Income Household Water Assistance Program could help De Carlo with water bill costs if she qualifies for it, and guided her to a MVWA employee to provide her with more information.
Utica Resident Larry Cohen questioned why the MVWA is not giving harsher consequences to companies that have large outstanding fees.
Becher said the COVID-19 moratorium on utility and municipal shutoffs has been lifted, and the MVWA is now catching up on those outstanding fees.
Bruce Brodsky, vice chairman of the MVWA’ Board of Directors, said that water shutoffs are the most effective way to get outstanding fees paid, and the MVWA has begun charging fees for unpaid bills again.
Becher said the MVWA has done its best to keep water rate increases low over the years with 2% increases for the past 12 years, and the board is receptive to community feedback.
“We’re stuck. We’re stuck because the pipes are underground. They’re not attractive, and no one wants to pay for it,” Becher said. “There’s nobody who’s going to pay for it except us. … But we can’t have a 700-year replacement schedule. We can’t.”
The board will make its decision at its monthly meeting at 5 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 24, at the MVWA board room on the third floor of Utica City Hall.
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