Water, sewer hikes proposed in mayor’s budget

“When working through this budget, I tried to be very conservative with our day-to-day operating expenses, mainly because our capital project needs are enormous.” Fredonia Mayor Athanasia Landis

The village of Fredonia’s top official has deemed water and sewer hikes as unavoidable, citing what she believes is “years of neglect.”

Dr. Athanasia Landis presented her tentative 2017-18 fiscal budget during Monday’s village board meeting. Landis is proposing increases in the water and sewer rates of $1.15 and $1 per thousand gallons, respectively.

“When working through this budget, I tried to be very conservative with our day-to-day operating expenses, mainly because our capital project needs are enormous,” she stated. “This isn’t anything new, but rather the result of many years of neglect and disrepair. For a long time, the village government has been reactive rather than proactive in a sincere effort to avoid spending money — although understandable, but only leads to bigger problems and inevitable crisis.”

While usage fees are increasing under Landis’ proposal, taxes are remaining flat. The overall budget comes in at just over $10 million, which constitutes a 1.19 percent increase over the current year. That increase is below the inflation rate of 1.6 percent, Landis pointed out.

In describing the general fund, the mayor said the village took small steps last year to improve services in a sustainable way, including hiring two additional department of public works laborers and adding almost 2,000 hours of seasonal work to help improve the village’s appearance and boost morale among employees.

Landis is suggesting the creation of a salaried fire chief position, which has the support of both the paid staff and the volunteer firefighters. Staffing levels and expense levels will remain the same, she added; the fire department’s organization will simply reshuffle to provide consistency in its administration from year to year.

As for the police department, Landis would like village officials to start discussing the possibility of hiring a drug task force officer to tackle Fredonia’s drug epidemic. She made it clear the officer is not budgeted for this year.

The mayor then moved on to the water fund, officially recommending the village remain in the water business and not join the Northern Chautauqua County Regional Water District, citing steeper expenses if the village were to join. However, remaining in the business also means the village must invest in its infrastructure, particularly the dam and the spillway. That will cost the village an estimated $5.3 million.

“This is of course expensive, but not nearly as much as it would have been if we were to go with the north county water district,” Landis pointed out.

The third and final fund Landis talked about was the sewer fund. She noted — as with almost everything else — the village has been working to fix problem after problem at the wastewater treatment plant, with more problems waiting in the wings. An engineering firm is being hired to prioritize these problems, organize them in a timetable and figure out what officials need to tackle first.

“(Like with our water infrastructure,) the state can assist us with that, as well,” Landis remarked. “Nevertheless, rates have to be raised … to cover some of the expense.”

Fredonia cannot continue business as usual at the wastewater plant, Landis stressed. She proposed starting serious talks with the city of Dunkirk to see if a possible consolidation of the two municipalities’ plants would be feasible.

“This could be regionalism at its best, as a model, efficient and environmentally friendly plan,” she mentioned. “It’s very important when trying to invite new businesses to our area. We can even utilize both facilities, using one for residential waste and the other for commercial and industrial.”

In addressing the $325,000 New York state grant secured by the village last year for a Barker Common improvements project, Landis said she is proposing the local share necessary for the project (between $57,000 and $102,800) come out of funds previously budgeted for reconstruction of the municipal parking lot by Village Hall. That project, she added, never materialized, mainly because the money was not enough to complete it.

Landis said her budget has some systemic problems built into it. This includes the need for applied fund balance — the village’s savings account — to cover some of the regular operating expenses. She characterized that as “unhealthy” and not sustainable, but added she is not interested in raising taxes.

“We should think of more efficient ways to deliver services without compromising their quality,” she said, adding that could include putting the DPW and the water and wastewater plants under one umbrella entity, helmed by a single public works director instead of three individual department heads.

The board will hold a public hearing on the mayor’s budget on April 10 at 7:30 p.m. in Village Hall. A public hearing on a potential local law to override the tax cap will take place at that time, as well.

The village’s fiscal year commences June 1. A budget must be adopted by May 1.

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