AUBURN — Supervisors from nearby towns had some strong words for Auburn’s City Council Thursday, speaking in opposition to proposed increases in the rates charged to sewer customers outside the city.
Supervisors Jeff Herrick of Sennett and Ed Wagner of Owasco appeared at the city’s meeting to speak during the public forum against a resolution proposing a wholesale rate increase for wastewater treatment that nearly doubles the current rate of $1.46 per 100 cubic feet of sludge to $2.90.
“I would strongly suggest to the council that what we do collectively is sit down like gentlemen and come up with an agreement,” Herrick said. “I certainly can’t balk at your idea of raising rates, nor will I, however I’m skeptical as to why we have to push it through as a resolution.”
Wagner warned that the increase could negatively affect the work the municipalities have achieved during the process to form a regional water and sewer authority.
“We are at the point now where there is serious discussion regarding proposed legislation to be drafted by the special counsel, approved by the consolidation committee and presented to the state Legislature for adoption,” he said, representing his town. “If the city chooses to unilaterally increase the sewer rate for the towns of Owasco, Sennett, Fleming and Aurelius, then it is likely many of our towns are going to immediately revisit our involvement with the consolidation process.”
Since 2009, the unchanged $1.46 rate was charged to each municipality, which then adds an additional charge to their users for operation and maintenance of the equipment they manage. Customers living in the city are currently charged $4.78 per 100 cubic feet.
A study conducted two years ago by a Manhattan consulting firm showed that both the water and sewer systems operate at a loss and not enough money was being saved for infrastructure maintenance.
The councilors, who ultimately approved the rate increase 4-1, with Mayor Michael Quill as the sole dissenting vote, said the measure was needed to level the playing field.
“The city taxpayers can’t afford to have this discrepancy exist anymore,” Councilor John Camardo said. “I understand your concerns, ... but this is something that’s got to happen, and I think it’s got to happen immediately.”
Herrick questioned the legality of the rate increase, pointing to a clause in the towns’ previous contract with the city that sets the rate of $1.35 for wastewater treatment if the agreement was terminated.
Corporation counsel Andrew Fusco addressed the legal concerns, saying the towns’ interpretation of the clause would set a perpetual rate, which said would not hold up in court.
“I don’t read the paragraph the same way that Jeff and Ed do, but I respect their opinion,” Fusco said. “If we have to have a third party decide who’s right, so be it.”
Quill explained his vote after a motion he made to table the increase for two weeks failed, saying he knew the increase was needed, but he wanted to allow more time to discuss legal matters with city attorneys.
After the vote, both Herrick and Wagner said they would discuss their options with their towns’ attorneys.
“I’m not happy,” Wagner said. “We’re going to look at all possibly ways to avoid that fee.”
Staff writer Nathan Baker can be reached at 282-2238 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at CitizenBaker.