Altamont proposes $2.5M budget for next year; municipal water and sewer customers could see increase in bills

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Altamont’s water and sewer facility is on Gun Club Road. The village has to take in another $100,000 a year from its water and sewer customers to cover operations-and-maintenance costs; however, while the cost of everything else has gone up, the water and sewer rates have been flat for nearly two decades. ​

ALTAMONT — The village’s proposed $2.47 million budget for 2020-21 is up about $71,000 over this year

But long-time village Treasurer Catherine Hasbrouck cautions that the budget is tentative and its numbers are still very preliminary. The village board’s Feb. 26 workshop was an opportunity for department heads to inform the board of their respective budgets and specific needs in the coming years, as well as projects they are looking to take on in the future.

The second budget hearing should bring a lot more clarity, Hasbrouck said. 

The property tax rate has yet to be finalized. 

This year’s rate is $2.72 per $1,000 of assessed value; for the two years prior, it had been $2.73 per $1,000 of assessed value. But village water and sewer customers may see their first rate increase in nearly two decades.

In addition to the Feb. 26 workshop, where the budget for 2020-21 was first presented, another workshop is scheduled for March 11, and, if needed, another for March 18. The village board will vote at its April meeting on adoption.

An Altamont property has seven taxes levied against it: village property;  Guilderland town-wide; Albany County property; Albany County election; special-use district, ambulance; state retirement; and school district.

In 2019, for example, a $250,000 Altamont property in the Guilderland School District would have been assessed about $5,360 in taxes. 

At the Feb. 26 budget workshop, Superintendent of Public Works Jeffrey Moller told the board that the village’s still fairly new wastewater treatment facility on Gun Club Road is becoming old — about 75 percent of the plant is about six years old, the remaining 25 percent is about 40 years old.

Last month, for example, Moller told the board, there was $6,000 in vouchers for repairs to equipment controls. He also said that the controls had lasted longer than they were supposed to. 

Moller said when these controls breakdown, “the plant almost stops.”

Trustee Dean Whalen made the point that the village got an extra few years out of the controls, but soon mechanical equipment — for example, the pumps —  could start to fail.

It was also pointed out that it just costs more to run the new wastewater-treatment plant. Water and sewer operations-and-maintenance costs have only increased since the last time there had been a rate increase, which was thought to be about 17 years ago — so, for example, a worker making $15 an hour in 2003 would now be making $21 per hour, and that’s just adjusting for inflation; it doesn’t take into account raises or benefits. 

In addition to the added longevity Altamont was able to get out of some of its equipment, another reason the village hasn’t had to raise water and sewer rates in so long was because Moller and his department had been so successful — whether through frugality or by making repairs — in keeping costs down.

“In the past, I remember every year, Jeff would be like: ‘I was able to cut this much from this line, this much from this line, overall, I cut this much money — this year doesn’t sound like that,” Trustee Nicholas Fahrenkopf said. 

To deal with any upcoming repairs, Hasbrouck was asked about the health of the sewer reserve fund.

It’s not in good financial shape, Hasbrouck told the board. 

Hasbrouck said that the village had been taking $25,000 out of the sewer reserve every year for the past few years to help pay back the 40-year bond on the sewer-plant upgrades; there are 36 years left on the bond. 

Hasbrouck told The Enterprise this week that, when the it was the village board’s intent to space out the financial hit customers would take because they were already paying off a separate bond for upgrades to the water system that wouldn’t be paid off until 2027, which is why it had been part of the plan to take $25,000 out of the sewer reserve fund every year until 2027 to help pay back that bond. 

The sewer reserve fund currently stands at $179,000, with another $25,000 scheduled to be taken out in May.

Customers currently pay a $45 fee on their twice-a-year bills to help pay off the sewer bond and a $25 fee for the water bond. 

Hasbrouck told the board that rates had to be raised so that village could collect another $100,000 per year — which came out to about an extra $100 per user per year. The increase, Hasbrouck said, would be for general operations and maintenance. 

Discussion among the board then turned to how that $100,000 should be raised — rate increase or fee.

One idea discussed was to increase water-usage fees (sewer fees are 180 percent of a customer’s April water bill and 150 percent of the October bill), that way, if a customer is using four times as much water as his or her neighbor, then four times as much water is going through the village’s wastewater treatment plant — a primary driver of increased operations-and-maintenance costs.

For its March 11 budget workshop, the board asked that Hasbrouck come up with several different options for how the increase could be applied. ​

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