For customers in New Scotland’s Northeast Water District, a $12,500 Band-Aid is better than the alternative

— From the town of New Scotland

New Scotland has nine different water districts with a total of 858 customers. Customers in the three water districts with in-town sources pay less for their water than customers in the town’s other six districts because the two municipalities that supply water to those customers are allowed to charge double. The town has about 3,560 housing units.

NEW SCOTLAND — Customers in the Northeast Water District have been buying their water from the village of Voorheesville since the end of November when the town had to take the district offline after an unusually high master meter reading.

The source of the high reading — a 4,000-gallon-an-hour leak — was a 3-foot long vertical crack in the district’s 25-year-old underground 18,000-gallon fiberglass tank.

Northeast Water District customers are now paying close to double what they normally pay for water — which is still considered a deal, because Voorheesville is charging Northeast customers 1.25 times what it charges its own residents; the village could charge double.

“We were very appreciative of the village for cutting the rate … ,” New Scotland Supervisor Douglas LaGrange told The Enterprise.

At its monthly meeting on Jan. 8, the New Scotland Town Board approved $12,500 to fix the crack, a job that should be complete by mid-February at the latest.

In addition, the board approved $2,800 for a feasibility study that will examine the cost of doing nothing (living with the repair) and replacing the tank, as well as the cost of connecting the district to the adjacent Kensington Woods Water District.

The 127 customers of the Northeast Water District reside along Route 85A, just outside to the village of Voorheesville. 

Many of the district’s users live on Elizabeth and Robin drives, and on Appleblossom and Smith lanes; the district also includes approximately 21 homes on Forest Drive, just off Route 85; and the 18 lots of the LeVie Farm subdivision further down Route 85A toward Route 85.


Nine districts

New Scotland has nine different water districts and, depending on the origin of the source, some customers can pay as much as $26 per 1,000 gallons of water while others pay as little as $4.50 per 1,000 gallons. 

Customers in districts with in-town water sourcesClarksville, Kensington Woods, and Northeast — pay less for water than customers in the other six districts who are supplied from either Voorheesville or Bethlehem because those two municipalities are allowed to charge out-of-town customers double what they charge their own residents. The New Salem Water District, which gets a special rate from Bethlehem, is an exception. 

 Northeast Water District users were paying $4.50 per 1,000 gallons for the first 30,000 gallons of water purchased until the end of November. Village residents are charged $3.25 per 1,000 gallons of water up to 70,000.

So now, Northeast Water District users are paying Voorheesville about $4 per 1,000 gallons in addition to their normal rate of $4.50 per 1,000 gallons — which will be a little less now because users aren’t paying some of the operation and maintenance costs associated with their own system, for example, electricity for the well pumps.

Northeast Water District users have to continue to pay part of their original water rate because the town takes the cost of operating and maintaining New Scotland’s nine water districts and divides that cost across the town’s 858 water customers.

The source of the water is what causes the difference in the price per 1,000 gallons among the customers in each of the nine districts.


Water costs — infrastructure and otherwise

“The immediacy here is to get the folks off of village water so they don’t have that extra cost, which again, is almost twice as much as they’re paying now. And then to get back on their own water,” LaGrange told The Enterprise. “And then keep moving on the feasibility study and the actual interconnect if everything shows up good for that.”

 The interconnection with the village was put in place six or seven years ago, LaGrange said, because the Northeast system had to previously be taken out of service for repairs due to problems with build-up in its filtration system. 

With its own wells down, the town estimated that, cumulatively, Northeast Water District users are paying between $3,100 and $3,500 per month extra for water. “Going for an interconnect,” for example, LaGrange said, customers would “be lucky if that’s six months.” 

So, for Northeast Water District users, the town figured the best deal is to pay $12,500 to repair the district’s 18,000-gallon fiberglass tank — for which the district’s customers will foot the bill — because, otherwise, the best-case scenario could be that customers would pay an extra $18,600 to $21,000 for water for six months while the interconnection with Kensington Woods is constructed, if that were found to be the best option.

New Scotland has anticipated connecting the two water districts for some time. In 2017, the town worked out a deal with the developer of Kensington Woods who was looking to obtain building permits faster than what was originally agreed upon. 

In exchange for faster permitting, the town got a hump taken out of Hilton Road and, in anticipation of someday eventually connecting the two water districts, part of a water main was installed under Hilton Road. In addition, a two-inch sewer pipe was installed to eventually supply the Hilton Barn project with both water and sewer. 

“So now,” LaGrange said of the water and sewer lines installed in 2017 in anticipation of future construction, “it’s basically a straight run” along Hilton Road from the Kensington Woods development to Route 85A, “where it would pick up the [water]main for the Northeast Water District.”

Typically, if an in-town water district with in-town users wants or has to make infrastructure improvements, it would float a bond and the in-town users would pay back that bond as part of an annual tax assessment that is applicable only to that special-use district. 

However, when one town — call it Bethlehem — sells water to customers in an adjoining town — say, New Scotland — New York State Law says that the town of Bethlehem cannot assess a tax on a resident of the town of New Scotland, Councilman William Hennessy explained to The Enterprise.  

So to recoup its costs, Hennessy said, Bethlehem is allowed to charge out-of-town customers double what it charges its own residents. Bethlehem charges its own residents $2.95 per 1,000 gallons up to 3,740 gallons, and $6.12 per 1,000 gallons between 3,747 gallons and 37,400 gallons.

If that sounds usurious, as if Bethlehem is making more money than if it were just normally taxing its own residents, Hennessy said, “That’s the question that’s out there.” 

“My position is that they’ve already recouped the costs for that work and they should not be able to charge that kind of rate,” he said. “But it would be a difficult exercise to prove that.”

“We had discussions with Bethlehem many years ago” about the issue of charging out-of-town water users double what in-town users pay, Hennessy said, “but they did not entertain that at that time,” he said of Bethlehem, adding, “There are several legal agreements in place that that resulted in that direction.” 

The Font Grove Road, Heldervale, Swift Road, New Salem, and Feura Bush water districts all receive water from the Town of Bethlehem — together, the five districts’ users make up about half of the town’s 858 water customers. 

There are about 3,560 total housing units in town, of which approximately 3,000 are single-family homes, according to the most recent Census data; the remaining housing units can be found in two-family homes, of which there are 125 total units; three-to-four family homes, of which there are about 150 total units in town; and in structures with between five and nine units, of which there are approximately 90 total units in New Scotland. 

Font Grove Water District customers pay $26 per 1,000 gallons up to 5,000 gallons and $12 per 1,000 gallons over 5,001 gallons.

Heldervale Water District customers pay $18.50 per 1,000 gallons up to 15,000 gallons and $18.50 per 1,000 gallons over 15,001 gallons.

Swift Road Water District customers pay $15.50 per 1,000 gallons up to 15,000 gallons and $16.50 per 1,000 gallons between 15,001 and 60,000 gallons.

New Salem Water District customers pay $9.00 per 1,000 gallons up to 15,000 gallons and $9.50 per 1,000 gallons between 15,001 and 60,000 gallons.

New Salem customers pay less because, when the district was created, Bethlehem agreed to sell its water at a discounted rate in exchange for the new district’s customers picking up a substantial portion of the tab on improvements, upgrades, and extensions to what had been the existing district’s infrastructure.

Feura Bush Water District customers pay $15.70 per 1,000 gallons up to 15,000 gallons and $16.20 per 1,000 gallons between 15,001 and 60,000 gallons.

In 2018, about 42.5 percent of all the water produced for Bethlehem’s Water District Number One came from sources in New Scotland; another 29 percent  came from the city of Albany. 

Bethlehem owns water sources in New Scotland, LaGrange explained, because a very long time ago, some time the early 1900s, New York State told New Scotland that, because it had other possible in-town water sources and because Bethlehem had a need at the time, New Scotland had to “share” its water with Bethlehem. 


Down the road

While connecting the infrastructure of the Northeast and Kensington Woods water districts won’t be difficult, how that new district — or districts — is administered remains to be seen. 

 In Kensington Woods, water customers are paying only for what they use; they aren’t on the hook for infrastructure costs because the developer is footing that bill. By contrast, customers in the Northeast Water District are paying off one bond until at least 2021, and it’s likely another bond would have to be floated to lay the water main and other infrastructure needed for the interconnection with Kensington Woods. 

But with Kensington Woods, the town, rather than the district itself — as is the case with Northeast — owns the water, which is an important distinction when considering expansion, according to LaGrange. 

As for the other water districts in town, LaGrange said, New Salem is still fairly new as are parts of Heldervale and Feura Bush. But Swift Road may soon need a new main, and in Clarksville, and in the parts of Heldervale and Feura Bush that aren’t new, he said,“Those are places that we’re going to have to keep a close eye on.”

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