Niagara Gazette

February 11, 2013

Outside voice sought on water rate questions in Lewiston

by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The Lewiston Village Board is hoping the voice of its independent auditor will silence the questions about water rates.

Certified public accountant Patrick Brown, of Falls accounting firm Brown & Co., was invited to review water rates between current village bills and estimates surrounding a possible change to the Town of Lewiston's water department.

In a letter sent to the Niagara Gazette Friday, Mayor Terry Collesano said he, Brown and Village Engineer Richard San Giacomo were able to confirm future rates under town control would be higher for approximately 70 percent of village residents. What's more, Collesano said the village should be able to lower its current rates by continuing to investigate what it currently charges.

"While researching the water rates, (we) found that the Village will be able to reduce the current water rate," the letter said. "The Board is continuing to research the water rates, which will benefit our Village residents."

In the letter, San Giacomo also said residents who turn their water off for part of the year – mainly those who leave for the winter months – would still pay close to $30 per year more for water under the town, due to the tax levied by the county's water district, which supplies both town and village customers.

Brown, who serves as independent auditor for both boards, did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.

The village and town boards have been studying the financial effects of consolidating services and have both provided different figures regarding prices village residents would be responsible for if a switch occurred. San Giacomo said a typical household valued at $100,000 using 6,400 gallons of water would pay $213.05 per year while Town Supervisor Steve Reiter countered by saying the charge is actually $160.97.

Figuring out the reason for the difference would require the two boards to sit in the same room together, which was supposed to happen in late January, though it was cancelled following Collesano undergoing surgery.

But there are theories about where the discrepancy is, and Councilman Alphonso Bax has one of them. He said it's possible the village calculations aren't taking into effect any changes in staffing at the village level from the possible consolidation.

"I think the village's figure could be accurate if they're looking at maintaining the same level of staffing," he said following a Town Board work session Monday. "Ours took into account some form of attrition. No one wants to fire anybody, but these times being what they are, that's reality. We offered to take one of their employees ... and they'd no longer be responsible for billing."

Figuring out the cause of the difference was less important for Reiter, who appeared at his limits concerning negotiations with the village.

Reiter, who also serves as the water department supervisor, said he's tired of talking about incorporating the village into the town's coverage and will leave it up to the village to decide what the next step will be.

"I don't know how we can do it any differently," he said. "The last thing I want to do is force village residents to pay more for their water. All I'm trying to do is give our residents a better deal. With what they're saying the math just doesn't add up."