Niagara Gazette

October 27, 2013

Falls Water Board floats out proposed 3.5 percent rate increase

By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The Niagara Falls Water Board’s proposed budget for 2014 includes a 3.5 percent rate hike.

The proposed budget, which was released to board members last week, would see the utility spend $2.6 million more than 2013 while several financial pressures — including an expiration of a settlement with Occidental Chemical that saw the authority take in $500,000 last year — are causing the need for the hike, Paul Drof, the executive director of the board, said.

Drof stressed that proposed budget is a “working document” that will be altered before being subject to a public hearing and then finally adopted.

“It’s a starting point,” he said.

The finance committee and governing committee, comprised of members of the water board’s board of directors, will now review the budget and make recommendations.

“When we meet at workshop in November they’ll bring their ideas and recommendations together,” Drof said. “They’ll discuss it there, then they’ll come up with what they consider to be a final budget after that.”

The budget also includes three new positions in the waste water treatment plant.

Drof said the new positions will help the plant operate more efficiently by holding down overtime.

“If we lose key personnel we have no one right now that we can fill in with so we have to use overtime,” he explained. “So this may be a better utilization of our work force. That’s what we’re hoping for.”

Drof said the utility is also dealing with the inflated pension and health care costs that municipalities and agencies throughout the country are experiencing.

“We try to do our best to control those but some of them are out of our jurisdiction,” he said.

Ted Janese III, the chairman of the board and a member of the finance committee, said he met with fellow committee members before Thursday’s water board meeting to begin discussing ways to limit the rate hike.

“We went through the budget pretty much line by line,” he said. “We asked for suggestions on where we can reduce, projections on revenues, those kinds of things.”

Janese pointed to the board’s increased costs for liability and property insurance caused, in part, by the massive storm in late July that damaged water board property throughout the city and shut down the waste water treatment facility for several days.

The projected cost of liability insurance will jump from $90,000 to $183,000 and property insurance will jump from $85,500 to $217,000.

“We’re looking for some gap insurance too, so that’s going to go up,” Janese said. “We’re paying way more for less coverage.”

Big red number $2.6M Increase in Niagara Falls Water Board's spending in proposed 2014 budget over 2013's numbers.

Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257