YORKTOWN, N.Y. - The governing body last week threw the town water department a buoy to keep it afloat by raising the going rate of its ever-more precious commodity and its service to the community.
After a slide presentation by Ken Rundle, the Yorktown Consolidated Water District distribution superintendent, and a public hearing punctuated by praise for its completeness, the Town Board on Tuesday, May 21, unanimously approved a 90-cent rate increase, bringing it to $7.15 per 1,000 gallons.
And it made a least one person happy.
“Thank you for raising my rates!” former Town Supervisor Susan Siegel said with a laugh after being asked by Councilman Tom Diana whether she agreed with the 14.4 percent hike.
The water rate was last increased in 2016, from $5 per 1,000 gallons to $6.25 per 1,000 gallons, necessitated by a rate increase imposed by Northern Westchester Joint Water Works. But, according to Rundle, it has not enabled the department to keep pace with its many needs, from new equipment to a multitude of infrastructure repairs, all while trying to meet the growing demands of regulators.
To edify the board and the public about their water service, Rundle’s presentation backtracked to the grand opening of the department in 1930; showed employees tackling water main breaks over the Christmas holidays; and featured pictures of the department’s seven water tanks in various states of disrepair.
Gesturing to the picture of one rusted tank, which he said could cost close to a million dollars to be refurbished, Rundle asked, “How can I have this tank repaired? We don’t have the funds.”
In fact, he said, the district’s last capital project occurred in 2002.
Also among the department’s goals are completing the cement lining of 3 miles of pipeline (Rundle said the last time cement lining had been done was in 1998) and the meter-reading project.
During the hearing, onetime Councilman Tony Grasso objected to the increase, contending it would be a “hardship” for the more than 6,414 people age 65 and over in the community.
“An increase like this all of a sudden would hurt many people, innocent people, because of neglect over the years.” Instead, he said, “I think we should do a complete study on this to see where we’re at and why we’re at that position.”
He also suggested the board consider bonding.
Matt Slater, a Republican who is seeking the supervisor’s position in the November election, read off a list of questions he said the presentation raised, from how the administration plans to use “the additional dollars associated with a rate increase” to “why now?” and whether “we are falling victim here to convenient and fuzzy math.”
In answer to Slater’s question as to whether it is “a true rate increase,” Councilwoman Alice Roker said, “No, it’s not a true increase for the residents. It’s a break-even for what we pay vs. what we pay to use the water.”
Siegel briefly returned to the podium to issue a warning about bonding in relation to the town’s debt service and the 2 percent cap on taxpayer-supported spending.
“Water usage is something people can control,” she said. Repeating a statement made by Rundle in his presentation, she emphasized the need for everyone to pay their “fair share,” particularly in the commercial sector.
Although the board also vetted other ideas such as a multi-year plan and creating a formula to increase the rate incrementally, it found itself caught between a rock and a hard place. To pursue such ideas would require rewording the resolution, further delaying the department’s ultimate goal in the here and now.
“For me, I think we pass this so he’s [Rundle] at least assured he will get this money,” Roker said. “And remember, he’s not even going to get this money this year.”
Town attorney Richard Abbate agreed.
“The water district literally has no money, almost no money available for anything; it’s all budgeted,” he said. “To address it, you need to move this forward.”