Special-use districts underwater financially

Water, water ... The New Scotland Town Board discussed how Heldervale and Feura Bush will begin to pay back debt associated with their special-use districts

NEW SCOTLAND — Discussion of water and sewer saturated the Jan. 10 New Scotland Town Board Meeting.

Three special-use districts — Heldervale’s sewer and water, and Feura Bush’s water — have run up debts high enough to have drawn the attention of the state’s comptroller.

Decisions need to be made about how to pay back the debt.

The board discussed two different proposals: The first would be a flat fee that would be applied to all special-district users’ twice-a-year bill; that way, the debt would be spread out evenly among all special-district users. The second proposal would be to increase the per-gallon price, placing the repayment of debt on those who use more.

“Those are things we have been looking into; we can do it either way,” said Supervisor Douglas LaGrange.

At the board meeting, LaGrange said the town intends to send a letter to the each resident in those special-use districts to describe the situation, and explain what the state’s comptroller is expecting, so that residents understand what's going on, and to hold a meeting with them to discuss payment options.

The problem is that current rates don’t cover the cost of operation and maintenance.

Some of the debt could also be construed as infrastructure, LaGrange said.  “By that I mean, there haven’t been new [water] lines put in, but there have been so many repairs in so many places.”

LaGrange told The Enterprise in a follow-up interview that there is no one specific thing that can be pointed to as the reason for why these special-use districts have such high debt.

“I can’t tell you that Joe Supervisor didn’t do this do this right or Jill Bookkeeper didn’t do that right,” he said. “There was never any bad intention, but there were situations that needed to be addressed, that for some reason weren’t.”

“A lot of things go into the equation,” he said.

Leaks cause problems, he said.

The town has sometimes received late notification of cost increases from the places where it sources its water, and bills have already gone out that don’t reflect that increase.

Unexpected operation and maintenance costs are also a contributing factor, especially in Feura Bush, where there have been so many repairs. What happens is that, bills will go out in January and then there will be unexpected operation and maintenance costs that have, obviously, not been factored into the bills, which just adds to the district’s debt.

“What happens is, you try and raise the rates to address both the deficit and the debt, and then people cut back on their usage — so you don’t gain,” LaGrange said.

“You start to chase your tail at some point,” he said. “There’s always going to be something that throws you off.”

What costs would be

In Feura Bush, located in the southeastern part of town on the Bethlehem border, the water district has a debt of nearly $60,000.

In addition to the debt, Feura Bush runs a yearly deficit, which last year was estimated at about $3,500.  

Using the first proposal, the water district’s 55 customers would see the price they pay per thousand gallons go from $11.35 to $12 to stop running a yearly deficit, and $37 would be added to each of the bi-annual bills they receive for five years to pay down the debt.  

If the debt were to be allocated based on usage, then the rate would go from $11.35 per thousand gallons to $15.00 per thousand; after that, if a customer used over 15,000 gallons then the price per gallon would go from $11.85 to $15.50, and, if a customer used over 60,000 gallons, the charge per thousand goes from $12.35 up to $16.00.

Heldervale’s water district, off of Route 85 and reaching back into Bethlehem, is looking at about $30,000 of debt; its sewer district, about $25,000.

For Heldervale’s approximately 75 water customers, a number which is anticipated to increase by a third in the near future, if there were only to be a biannual fee for all users for five years, it would be about $35. If the town decided that Heldervale would pay back its debt based on usage then the price per thousand gallons would go from $16.50 to $18.00. The number of customers will increase because the town board approved an extension of Heldervale Water District to include the new Kay development on Route 85A as well as the Olsen self-storage project on Route 85.

Heldervale’s 89 sewer customers would pay approximately an extra $22 twice a year on their sewer bills, along with a per-1,000 gallon increase of $0.50 to stave off the yearly deficit; if the debt were paid off by usage, that would mean an increase from $8.50 to $10.00 per thousand gallons up to 15,000 gallons, and an increase from $9.50 up to $11.00 for usage over 15,000 gallons.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Approved a two new overtime policies for highway employees. The first will compensate workers who are assigned to be on call to handle emergency situations. Those workers will receive half an hour of overtime pay to be on call on weekdays and an hour of overtime pay to be on call on weekends.

A call-out pay policy was also approved. Any worker who is called into work for emergency duty will receive a minimum of three hours of overtime pay, so long as the call was not attached to a normal workday;

— Approved new Department of Public Works schedule of fees. Inspections of residential water service and meter installation will now cost $145, while the charge non-residential inspections will be $165; testing fees will be $145 for meters with three-fourths- and one-inch lines; new meter fees will be $475 for lines that are three-fourths of an inch, $475 for an inch, $825 for one-and-one-half inches, and $1,120 for lines that are two inches; hydro-seeding permits will now cost $200; and service calls (turning water on or off, for example) for nights, weekends, and holidays, will be $60;

— Heard an update on the comprehensive plan for the town. A final version of the plan had been issued by Barton and Loguidice, the engineering firm working on the plan, that is being reviewed by the comprehensive-plan update committee, which it hopes to have done by the end of January;

— Authorized Supervisor LaGrange to execute a town-designated engineer master service agreement with Barton & Loguidice for task-order requests, which is a contract for services that does not procure or specify a firm quantity of services — other than a minimum or maximum quantity — and that provides for the issuance of orders for the performance of tasks during the period of the contract; and

— Authorized Supervisor LaGrange to execute a town-designated engineer master service agreement with Stantec Engineering for task-order requests; general town engineering services, zoning-board consulting, planning-board consulting, highway-department consulting; consulting for Clarksville, Feura Bush, and Swift Road water districts as well as Heldervale sewer district; and storm-sewers consulting.

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