by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — Lewiston Town Supervisor Steve Reiter says the Village of Lewiston is providing false data to residents concerning town water rates.
Reiter, who also serves as the town's water department chief, said a recent claim by village Engineer Richard San Giacomo about town water rates was incorrect and, should the village choose to hand water control over to the town, village residents would save a lot more money than was originally reported.
"I don't know where they got their information, but they're wrong," Reiter said.
The error, Reiter said, is in a quoted figure given by San Giacomo, originally reported in the Jan. 23 edition of the Niagara Gazette. San Giacomo said at the Village Board a household valued at $100,000 using 6,400 cubic feet of water would pay $213.05 if the town assumed control of the system.
But Reiter claims town residents currently pay $160.97 using the same amount of water San Giacomo used in his assessment. This includes a $0.49 per $1,000 assessed value tax – or $49 – of the property assessed to all residents.
And that's not the only error San Giacomo made, Reiter said. The town also has a policy which allows residents to have water service halted should they leave for an extended period of time. San Giacomo originally said "snowbirds" would be required to pay the town a base fee of $14.90 every two months no matter the usage figures. In San Giacomo's calculations, he said village residents who leave would pay $173 for water every year under town control, as opposed to $79.40 with the village.
Reiter said San Giacomo's claim of residents paying more than $90 extra per year is completely wrong.
"All they have to do is call the town and have their water shut off," Reiter said. "They won't be charged if they do."
The two municipalities have been working to consolidate water services for months and have yet to get on the same page. They'd scheduled a joint meeting last Monday to continue discussions, but Mayor Terry Collesano was still recovering from surgery and the meeting was cancelled. It is unknown whether the meeting will be rescheduled, though village officials previously set a deadline of February for making the final decision.
One of the toughest parts of any decision the village makes is concerning the actual infrastructure. If the village did agree to the change, the move would require a public referendum because the village would hand control of the actual water delivery system over to the town. Village department of public works employees would no longer be allowed to repair main breaks and all other issues would need to be reported to the town. Billing and other aspects of the water department would also be handled through the town.
Village officials recently questioned whether residents saving small amounts of money on water bills would be worthwhile if it meant handing over control of the system's parts to the town.
However, the village also knows it has an issue with its sewer system, which has been increasing in cost over the last few years and recently forced the village to increase its sewer rates. The problem is with aging and leaking lines, which leach water, causing residents to pay more than they should.
The village may have to hand over control of the water system in order to, in the future, convince the town to take over the sewers as well.
"The sewers are a problem, we know that," Deputy Mayor Bruce Sutherland said. "We're working on that for next year."
Village Trustee Dennis Brochey said he'd rather not give up water control and would like to see if the town would consider just taking the sewers under its wing.
"When I was campaigning, one of the biggest issues I heard was sewer rates," he said. "We know there is an issue with the sewers. I would rather keep the water and let's talk to (the town) about ways to lower the sewer rate."