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Chatham village wonders what water should cost


CHATHAM–The Village Board discussed water rates at a special meeting last week, asking Village Clerk Barbara Henry and Deputy Clerk Debra Meyers to present a review at a future meeting of the costs to operate the water system. The board also wants to know about possible flat rates for water use and information about the water rates charged by other villages.

“I’m interested in you working on a proposal,” said Mayor Tom Curran.

Currently village residents who use no more than 1,000 cubic feet (cf) of water pay a minimum bill of $18.12 per quarter and water users outside the village pay $66.89 per quarter. For customers who use more than 1,000 cf (one cubic foot is 7.48 gallons), the property or business owner is billed at a set rate per cubic foot. As water usage goes up the rate goes down. At 5,000 cf, property owners pay .017 cents per cf, but at 10,000 cf the rate drops to .014 cents. If a property uses over 30,000 cf the rate goes down to .006 cents per cf.

Ms. Henry said that the current rate structure discourages conservation and more importantly it doesn’t meet the costs of operating the system. She also pointed out that the village has embarked on major construction projects designed to improve or maintain the village water system, like painting and repairing the water tower, and that those projects have created debt that needs to be paid off.

Mayor Curran said that when looking at the rates the clerks should also look at labor costs. “It’s the cost of doing business,” he said.

Ms. Henry said that because water is lost in the system and not accounted for, “I would base the rates on water pumped, because that’s what we’re paying for.” That approach would factor in the total amount of water being pumped out of the village system to properties.

The board discussed having a user fee, a meter fee and flat quarterly rate, though no rate changes were presented at the May 26 meeting. The board asked the clerks to collect more information before board members adopt a local law changing the rates.

A meter fee would help pay for new meters being purchased and installed by the village to provide more accurate water use readings.

Ms. Henry said that a lot of residents who get water from village are covered by the minimum level of usage but that a lot of time and expense goes toward dealing with the few property owners who don’t pay their bills.

Deputy Clerk Meyers said that 72 letters were sent out from the village to residents who had not paid their bills, and that led to payment of more than half the previously unpaid bills. She said that of those original letter recipients, only 15 received follow-up letters saying their water would be shut off and only 3 residents actually had their water shut off.

Ms. Meyers said that shut-off notices had not been sent out in several years and that the office would not have to send so many again. “Now that we are doing it, we’re not going to let it get out of hand,” she said.

Ms. Henry said that the office wanted to help people pay late bills. “A lot of time… goes into talking to a very few number of customers,” she said of dealing with late bills.

The board discussed the fees for shutting on and off water. Ms. Henry said that not only is the shut-off process labor intensive for village officials, one case required the involvement of village police. Currently there is a $50 fee for delivery of the shut off notices.

There is also no fee when residents ask to have their water shut off because they are going away, and the board discussed adopting a fee for that work as well.

The board plans to review not only water rates but also fees for building permit violations and for issues with grease in the sewer system as the result of restaurants and stores that do not properly use a grease trap.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email eteasdale@columbiapaper.com

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