By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette —
The Niagara Falls Water Board will hold a public hearing today on budget issues that will drive up rates.
The board will hear public input on its tentative budget, which will raise ratepayers' bills by 6 percent over the 2012 numbers, the result of a decrease in funds from a settlement between the city and Occidental Chemical, an increase in employee pensions and increases in costs related to health care benefits for employees, according to board officials.
The board is facing a decrease of $1.3 million in funds from the Occidental Chemical settlement with the city, which will pay out $500,000 to the board in the final year of the 20-year agreement.
“This is a conservative budget that includes a very necessary rate increase to help offset the drastic decrease in the Occidental Chemical payment,” Paul Drof, the executive director of the water board, said. “In addition to the decrease in the Oxy payment, other financial pressures outside of our control such as increased state pension costs for employees, declining consumption and vital infrastructure upgrades are what made this budget very challenging.”
Drof said that water board members, members of the water board's finance committee and staff members worked hard to bring the rate increase, which will cost the average rate payer about $20 a year, down from to 8.5 percent increase that was submitted a month ago to the 6 percent number that is now proposed.
“We have and continue to do everything under the water board’s control to cut costs and improve efficiencies and pass those savings on to ratepayers,” Drof said.
There are also a pair of resolutions on the agenda for the water board meeting that could affect the tentative budget, one to create a new position and one to reestablish a position.
Ted Janese, the chairman of the water board, said that declining population and debt service payments from infrastructure improvements are also reasons for the rate increases.
"The NFWB recognizes many residents are experiencing financial pressure in these tough economic times and that any rate increase is significant to our ratepayers," Janese said. "Our staff has worked hard to mitigate the need for rate increases, both by reducing costs and implementing more effective tools in collecting revenue."
Drof said that board members will consider public input and the results of the votes on the resolutions related to positions before voting on the budget.
"Whatever the public comment is, the board will take that into consideration before voting," Drof said.
The public hearing will take place today at 4:30 p.m. at the Michael C. O'Laughlin Water Treatment Plant located at 5815 Buffalo Ave.
The water board will hold its regular meeting at 5 p.m. at the same location.WATER BOARD MEETING • WHEN: 4:30 p.m. today • WHERE: Michael C. O'Laughlin Water Treatment Plant located at 5815 Buffalo Ave.