Le Roy raises sewer rates
Le Roy village residents will pay more for sewer service starting this summer.
The Village Board on Wednesday approved a 21-percent hike — from $33 to $40 — in the village’s minimum quarterly sewer rate, effective with the August billing.
Sewer charges are based on water consumption. The minimum quarterly sewer charge includes the first 3,000 gallons.
The board also raised the village’s “excess” rate, from $5.81 to $8 per 1,000 gallons above the minimum.
Sewer rates will also increase for the handful of customers outside the village. The minimum will go from $100 to $120 per quarter, while the excess charge rises from $6.76 to $9.25 per 1,000 gallons.
The increases — the village’s first since 2002 — were prompted by a sewer fund deficit and the need to pay for long-deferred improvements to the village’s 54-year-old sewer treatment plant on Red Mill Road.
Mayor Greg Rogers said the village is meanwhile eyeing a $5 million to $6 million plan for plant upgrades. The first phase could be in place by the end of the year.
Rogers said the board’s hope is that those upgrades will cut treatment costs — and eventually allow for a lower sewer rate.
“Once we get going, this rate could slide back considerably,” Rogers said. “But for this year, we have to budget to break even.”
Rogers estimated that an average family of five will pay an additional $200 in sewer costs in 2016-17.
Residents who pay only the minimum — a category that includes about 20 percent of the village’s 1,751 customers — will pay an extra $7 per year.
The sewer budget, by law, must be self-funding. The 2015-16 fiscal year will however end with a $220,000 sewer fund deficit, Rogers said. That will be covered by reserve funds, but must be repaid to the general fund next year, he said.
The deficit was fueled by the cost of wastewater sludge hauling, which has been entirely in the village’s hands since We Care Organics of Rochester stepped way from its hauling agreement late last year.
“That’s the major contributing factor,” Rogers said.
The costs of operating the treatment plant — including employee wages and benefits — have continued to rise, Rogers said. But lower water consumption — thanks in part to residents’ use of water-efficient appliances — has held sewer revenues in check.
Another new but necessary expense, Rogers said, is an equipment repair and maintenance effort directed by Steven Carroll, plant superintendent since March 2015.
Rogers said the Village Board, along with the village sewer board and engineers Clark Patterson Lee, are developing a $5 million to $6 million plan for treatment plant upgrades. The village will pursue grants and interest-free financing offered through the state Environmental Facilities Corporation.
The immediate goal is to purchase a belt filter press, used for sludge dewatering. Rogers said the equipment costs about $600,000, but would dramatically reduce hauling and landfill expenses.
“Our first step is, we have to get the money,” Rogers said. “The second step is to get the belt press. Once we do that we can start seeing a real savings.”
The village’s sewer treatment plant is a long-simmering problem that no one has been eager to address — in Roger’s words, the “5,000-pound elephant in the room.”
Outstanding debt on the plant — which costs nearly $400,000 a year to service — will not be retired until 2019.
“To be honest, everybody — present company included — was just trying to get to the end of that before stacking on more debt,” Rogers said.
“You knew it was there, and you knew that someday it would have to be done,” he said. “The witching hour is here.”
In other action Wednesday, the board adopted a $3.375 million budget for 2016-17. The budget raises the tax rate by a penny, to $10.46 per $1,000 assessed value.
The budget that was the subject of a public hearing last week. The village’s 2016-17 fiscal year begins June 1.