Ongoing negotiations between three Cayuga County municipalities leaves drinking water service in the balance for hundreds of residents as a hard funding deadline rapidly approaches.
Since early July, Auburn City Manager Douglas Selby, Aurelius Supervisor Ed Ide and the municipalities' respective attorneys have been hashing out a rate agreement to connect homes on the town's west side, including all of the village of Cayuga, to the city's water treatment system.
Last week, Ide implored the Auburn City Council to reach an end to the negotiations and to reconsider certain provisions in draft contracts that he said could be used to raise rates for the new customers disproportionally.
"Either whoever wrote them in there doesn't understand what they're trying to accomplish, or they're looking for an opportunity to be exploitative," Ide said of portions of the contract. "It sets the stage where rates could escalate dramatically, and it could be based essentially on city saying this is what we need without any real justification."
The cost for water service charged to most of the doughnut towns is an additional 15 percent on top of what city residents pay.
Ide said that practice has been in place for years and allows the city to recover its costs while providing the outside municipalities with the safety of having their rates firmly attached to what city residents pay.
"That way we knew they weren't going to wildly raise our rates to try to subsidize the city," Ide said Monday. "But the contract they proposed to us now had added provisions for trying to raise the rate all based on internal costs with a lot of things that left the town with no practical way to quantify what the rates could be."
In July, the City Council authorized Selby to negotiate a contract with Aurelius adding 17 percent to the rate city residents pay and asked the manager to set specific terms to revisit the rates.
Selby said part of the councilors' concerns stemmed from the uncharacteristically long term of service the village needs to secure its funding.
To finalize the 30-year loan program it needs to fund the building of the water infrastructure, Cayuga needs to hold an agreement for service at least until the loan is repaid.
"None of the other contracts are as long as this one," Selby said. "If we had a crystal ball and could see 30 years out to know that nothing was going to change, it wouldn't be a problem. But we really can't assure that things aren't going to change during that time."
To get the millions of dollars in funding for the project, Ide said the village must have a contract for service in place by the end of the year, which is fast approaching.
The village is also under an order from the County Health Department to improve its water quality or face fines or a potential shutoff.
"We're really at the eleventh hour of a three-year process," Ide said. "No one ever expected an issue to come up with this contract, because we thought it was in the city's best interest."
Selby said the city is sensitive to the village's deadline and he hopes to soon have an agreement.
"We definitely don't want to see them lose the opportunity to get their funding," he said. "I think everybody understands the need. Hopefully we can come to terms quickly so they can see construction begin."