Customers of the city of Dunkirk water system can expect higher rates come January.
That's the word from Mayor Anthony J. Dolce, who also said there's no plan at this time to raise sewer rates. The water rates will be increasing to pay for work done under the 2009 consent order the city agreed to with the state and county health departments.
"They'll be going up and they'll be phased in over a two-year period. We'll have exact numbers in October," Dolce said Wednesday. "It's a total project estimated around $17 million. The water rate adjustments over the next two years will cover the first $9.2 million of that. We're prepping for the budget, they'll be factored into the budget."
OBSERVER Photo by Gib Snyder
A new water tower (right) on Willow-brook Avenue has been under construction since April. The tower is part of the 2009 consent order requiring upgrades to the city’s water system and will replace the tower (left) that will be in use until the new one is complete.
The mayor is required to submit his budget proposal to council by Oct. 14, but Dolce said he was hoping to have it done sooner.
He was asked how the consent order projects are progressing.
"In terms of meeting all our timeline obligations, everything is on schedule and things are going, for the most part, very smooth in that regard. We have met the folks from the county Department of Health and they've been satisfied with the progress and meeting all the time obligations," Dolce replied. "The trickier part is the financial obligations. We're doing our research. Obviously we're willing to meet with whoever, whenever, to make this work for everybody."
Dolce said the city is still looking for grants to help pay for the project, especially through the state's Environmental Facilities Corporation.
"EFC, and this is why I've been holding out on putting the rates out there, we should have a final answer by the end of this month. So once we have that final answer it definitely helps us game plan in terms of financing or rates," the mayor explained. "We're still exploring that, (City Treasurer Mark Woods), (Department of Public Works Director Tony Gugino) and Hill Engineering definitely have been doing everything they need to do to see if we'll qualify for the EFC financing. We should find out by the end of the month."
While some of the project's costs were contained in the 2012 budget, Dolce said it was a small portion.
"When they did the water meter replacement project, that's in the budget but that is a very small portion of that $9.2 million. In talks with Mark (Woods), that will be rolled in the long-term of the $9.2 million; but again, it's about $1 million of the whole picture."
Dolce added the city was looking to go with long-term borrowing for the $9.2 million while loan rates were good but would wait until the city found out about its EFC funding request before he announced new water rates.
"Until I get that I don't want to commit to the one, especially knowing that I'll find out by the second or third of October," he explained. "So if I find out then I'll still have time to quickly make the adjustments. Mark (Woods) has time to quickly make it for the budget draft publication."
Dolce was asked if there was anything he wished to tell the city's water customers.
"We're doing what we can to explore all grant possibilities, whether that's a straight-out grant or subsidized interest rates," he replied. "We're working at it, but the reality is it's approximately a $17 million project that was required, and you know, you've got to meet your financial obligations."
Dolce was asked if he has talked to the city's major industrial customers.
"A couple, and a couple we're going to look to meet with in person once we have the rates finalized," he replied.
Water rates have not changed since the first billing of 2010. City residents are currently charged $22.50 for a minimum 5,000 gallons. After that, the rates are based on additional usage and broken into four additional categories: $3.14 per 1,000 gallons for the next 15,000 gallons; $2.44 per 1,000 gallons for the next 180,000 gallons; $2.27 for the next 11.8 million gallons and $1.27 per 1,000 gallons for the next 12 million gallons used.
Non-city water users pay rates some 75 percent higher than city users.
The consent order, signed in October 2009 by then Mayor Richard Frey and Chautauqua County Public Health Director Christine Schuyler, listed some 16 violations, including nine that were cited in 2007 and 2008. Of those nine, two were listed as having been known by the city since 2005.
Send comments on this story to firstname.lastname@example.org