By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette — A business owner and several community leaders have called for the Niagara Falls Water Board to eliminate a fee the utility charges to property owners who use no water.
The board charges an "availability charge" to ratepayers who have their meters removed.
David Bieksza, who owns several buildings on 24th Street including a warehouse that uses no water or electricity, told water board members during a meeting Thursday that he was incensed when he saw the fee had doubled, from $30 each quarter to $60.
"I get a water bill for a building where not one drop of water is being used," Bieksza said.
Bieksza, who ran an auto service garage on 24th Street before retiring several years ago, said he feels it is unjust that he should have to pay $240 a year for a service that he does not use.
He, and other property owners, would be using the money being paid to the utility to improve their properties if not for the fee, Bieksza argued.
"You shouldn't do this to good, taxpaying people trying to keep their properties up," Bieksza said.
Roger Spuback, president of the Niagara Falls Block Club Council, also spoke to the board saying that to raise the rate so quickly was unfair.
"This seems like one is being financially punished for using no water whatsoever," Spurback said.
Spurback went on to say that rates in general have been climbing too quickly over the years.
"Higher rates will further impede people from settling in this community," Spurback said.
County Legislator Jason Zona, D-Niagara Falls, also spoke at the meeting, requesting that the board consider lessening or eliminating the fee.
"It's a small bone to throw to the ratepayers in this county," Zona said.
Paul Drof, the board's executive director, said the charge - which was first included in the 2007 budget and increased to $60 in the 2012 budget - is in place because, although the property owner is not using any water, the plant still processes water that comes off of the property and washes into the sewers.
"We have a combined system in a lot of the city, so that has to go to the waste water treatment plant for treatment," Drof said.
Ted Janese, the chairman of the water board, said the board may reconsider the charge, but would likely leave the issue until the next budget is set.
"It's something we'd revisit when we get to the budget," Janese said. "I don't think that's something we'd take action on during the year unless it comes from the director."