Berne sewer district nearly $35K short because of tax-bill error

Enterprise file photo — Marcello Iaia

The treatment facility for Berne’s sewer district opened in 2014.

BERNE — Residents of Berne’s sewer district were mistakenly undercharged for sewer services this year, which left the district fund nearly $34,563 short. As a result, the town is figuring out how it will recoup those funds from the district’s residents.

Lyons told The Enterprise that the sewer district comprises 99 Equivalent Dwelling Units, or EDUs, the unit of measure by which residents are charged for sewer usage. 

“Some EDUs in Berne serve two single-family homes,” he said in an email, “some serve municipal buildings, some are commercial services, and a few are actually ½ EDUs based on size and flow.”

Lyons said that the majority of EDUs owe “$319 and change. A few [owe] a couple thousand and a few [owe] less than $150.”

In the meeting, Lyons explained that the shortage resulted from a clerical error made in the town assessor’s office when the tax bills were being constructed.

“It is basically a clerical error where the wrong line in the spreadsheet was used ...,” Lyons said. “Again, they used the operation and maintenance per EDU as opposed to the levy. Obviously the levy is the full tax. It’s the maintenance plus the service.” 

The assessor’s office — which is made up of Chairman Brian Crawford and assessors Christine Valochovic and Melanie Bunzey — confirmed for The Enterprise that “the wrong column of data was entered in preparation for the January 2021 tax bill.”

While it’s known how much is owed and by whom, the procedure of getting the money is less straightforward. Lyons said during the meeting that the town can either petition the county legislature for permission to adjust the tax warrant, which he said would be a “long and lengthy process,” or, the loss could be absorbed this year and taxpayers would pay an added tax in January 2022 for their owed amount. 

Like other special tax districts, Berne’s sewer district is self-sufficient, funded entirely by the taxpayers who reside there. 

No decision was made at the March 10 meeting, as Lyons said he was waiting for more detailed information on the petitioning process, and board members seemed eager to contact affected residents and find out what their preferences would be.

Lyons said that letters would go out “almost immediately” to district residents to alert them to the shortage and the fact that they’ll need to cover their share, whether that be sooner or later.

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