Tusten Raises Water Rates

By LIAM MAYO
Posted 6/16/21

NARROWSBURG, NY — “We have to take an honest look at what’s been done with this system—and not been done—for the last 20 years,” said Tusten Town Supervisor Ben Johnson.

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Tusten Raises Water Rates

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NARROWSBURG, NY — “We have to take an honest look at what’s been done with this system—and not been done—for the last 20 years,” said Tusten Town Supervisor Ben Johnson.

The system in question is the town’s water system, which is outdated and badly in need of repair. The board met on June 8 to discuss, among other things, how to fund the system’s necessary repairs.

Part of that funding would come from rate increases for water supplied to town residents and businesses. Water rates for residential and nonprofit users start at $127 flat under the proposed rates, with $0.019 per gallon for every gallon over 9,126 in a quarter. Commercial users, and residential users using over 14,001 gallons in a quarter, pay $190.50 flat, with $0.029 per gallon for every gallon over 9,126 in a quarter.

Under the previous rates, an average family would pay around $142 in a year, according to a report prepared by Delaware Engineering in 2020. With a quarterly base rate of $127, an average family would pay almost that much in a quarter under the new rates.

The new rates will apply to all bills going forward. This includes the next bill covering the previous three months of water usage, as water bills are paid in arrears.

The board presented a united front regarding the necessity of increases, questioning only the details of the process. However, Johnson made it clear this unity had only been achieved after long discussion behind the scenes. “The board is making some very hard decisions,” he said.

Even within the meeting, the board negotiated some difficult decisions. The original proposed rate for commercial users was $0.019 per gallon for everything between 9,126 and 14,000 gallons and $0.025 per gallon for everything over that range. But the board eventually decided on $0.029 per gallon for all commercial usage over 9,126 gallons, to keep the per-gallon rates consistent with the flat rates, which are one and a half times higher for commercial than for residential use.

Council member Alfred Smith raised discussion concerning another point, asking whether the increase in rates should be staggered. He proposed a stepped increase that would get rates halfway to the proposed rates this year, and halfway the following year.

Johnson said that he was not in favor of a stepped increase. “We have some issues,” he said, “[concerning] the troubling report that I saw with the water tower; we’re in a bad position.” According to the Delaware Engineering report, the water tower is 70 years old and in need of major repair or total replacement. Leaks, poor water pressure and aging pipes were also noted to be areas of concern.

The scale of the necessary repairs makes a slow raising of rates unfeasible. Rates have stagnated over the past 10 years, said Johnson, together with progress on repairs to the town’s water infrastructure. Rates could have increased gradually, over a longer period, but the window of possibility for gradual increases has passed.

Smith eventually stepped back from his position, saying that he would support raising the rates without a gradual increase.

The board also discussed how to define commercial versus residential users. Members of the board talked about Airbnbs as a type of property that straddles the line between commercial and residential and talked of concerns that commercial properties might slip beneath the board’s radar.

The board ultimately decided to use the tax assessor’s rolls to determine which properties counted as residential and which counted as commercial. While saying that they could make changes to the list going forward, the board agreed that the tax assessor’s rolls could serve as an effective place to start.

“For the purposes of getting started, we need to get started,” said Johnson.

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