GLENS FALLS — Water and sewer rates would stay the same for the third consecutive year under a proposed 2018 budget, as Common Council members also urge more long-term planning for infrastructure improvements.
The typical family would pay $785.22 in combined annual charges.
City Engineer Steve Gurzler presented an overview of the proposed budget for the water and sewer departments at a workshop meeting on Monday.
The city is keeping the tax rates level by tapping about $400,000 from fund balance — $278,000 from the water operations and expense fund and $125,000 from the sewer debt fund.
Gurzler said Glens Falls has more than enough money in reserves to spare. There was about $4 million in fund balance for the sewer fund and $3.24 million for the water fund at the end of 2016.
The total budget in the water and sewer operating funds is $9.3 million, which is about $383,000 less than last year. On the water side, the budget also allocates $65,000 to replace 650 water meter reader radio transmitters. The batteries are dying and units are failing, according to Gurzler.
“We’re on borrowed time with most of these,” he said.
In addition, the budget includes funding for new security cameras.
Gurzler said the city has had problems with people walking dogs and jogging in the watershed area. The cameras will help city officials not necessarily prosecute violators, but give the Warren County Sheriff’s Office an idea of when people are in the area to get the trespassing problem under control.
There are also staff positions added, including an executive secretary and an additional assistant electrician. A vacant position will be placed on hold until later in 2018.
Revenues for the water budget include $30,000 from Just Beverages.
On the sewer side, Gurzler said the city is not collecting any outside revenue from on-site waste disposal. Instead, it is shipping sewage treatment plant sludge to Wheelabrator to be incinerated. There is $425,000 allocated in fees to dispose of waste at Wheelabrator. The city is in the second year of a five-year contract with the incineration plant.
Gurzler said the Wheelabrator arrangement is less expensive than the cost the city would have incurred to make upgrades to its own sludge disposal facility to keep it in compliance and to pay for fuel.
In addition to the increases in salary and benefits, Gurzler said the department is looking to replace a combination sewer cleaner. This would replace a 10-year-old “workhorse” vehicle that is used daily for a variety of tasks including cleaning out catch basins, vacuuming out wastewater and digging holes. The current vehicle is costing about $13,000 a year in maintenance costs.
Councilor Bill Collins inquired about future infrastructure projects.
“Do we have any long-term plans to get data on what sewers have been replaced; what you’re hoping to do?” he asked.
Gurzler said long-term planning is something his assistant engineer used to do. That position, along with another engineer, left a few years ago and were not replaced. He said perhaps someone could be hired. That person would not necessarily need to be a licensed engineer, but would need a certain amount of technical knowledge about water and sewer needs.
Collins said Gurzler’s department is doing a good job in keeping things flowing. However, if there is a plan, the council will have a guide to discuss what projects the community wants to fund.
In the coming year, Gurzler said he would like to get a study completed of the city’s water and sewer rates to see if they are equitable. There are other ways to charge for water and sewer, but the main concern is making sure the city collects enough money to pay its bills.
Some people have criticized the city for charging a minimum rate, regardless of how much water the consumer uses. Gurzler said if the city drops that rate method, perhaps it should put in a service charge.
Gurzler added that Mayor Jack Diamond has asked him to put together a request for proposals on upgrading city buildings, including City Hall, the Department of Public Works and the Water and Sewer Department building.
A lot of the buildings need new roofs and energy upgrades, according to Gurzler. The study will help determine the improvements needed and how to prioritize them.
The Water and Sewer Commission will vote on the budget at its meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at the wastewater treatment plant at 2 Shermantown Road. Then, it goes to the Common Council for review at its Dec. 12 meeting.