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Highland Road ratepayer: Proposed water fee is still ‘wrong’

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MASSENA - The village’s Board of Trustees meeting at 5:30 p.m. today might be the last chance for concerned residents to comment on the proposed water rates to fund maintenance on pipes near Highland Road.

At least one ratepayer who utilizes those pipes plans to address the village board on what she sees as an unfair pay scale to fund the work.

Elizabeth Kaneb, administrator of the Highland Nursing Home, plans to urge the board to hold off on the proposal and consider a plan that is “equitable” in the rates it charges to village ratepayers and the town ratepayers who utilize the system.

“The village owns the system, and they shouldn’t come to us now and ask for a maintenance fee,” Ms. Kaneb said. “If they’re gong to charge a new maintenance fee, they have to decrease our water rates.”

The village board voted earlier this month to establish a public hearing at its meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday on the proposed $245,000 project, a cost that will be split between village ratepayers and ratepayers who utilize those pipes near Highland Road, outside the village. After the public hearing, the board may vote on the proposed project.

Under the proposed plan, all village homeowners would be billed $8.05 per year for five years, while the homeowners who use that system will be billed $56.69 per year for five years for the replacement of the pipes. There also will be a permanent maintenance fee, which will cost village residents $3.76 per year and residents in the Highland Road area $26.49 per year.

Ms. Kaneb claims ratepayers near Highland Road are billed higher water rates than village residents and believes she should only be billed a new maintenance fee if it costs the village more to deliver water to that part of the district.

“The village would have to prove it costs more to deliver a gallon of water to me than it would to deliver a gallon of water to a village resident,” Ms. Kaneb said.

Those ratepayers were billed a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) on water from the 1960s until 1997, when Alcoa began to utilize those village water pipes to avoid the high costs of the PILOT, which was based on 25 percent of a ratepayers’ assessed property value. The revenue from those PILOT bills went toward pipe maintenance and lowering water rates for homeowners.

Since 1998, the homeowners near Highland Road have been billed a PILOT for sewer pipes, but not for water, Mr. Fayad said.

Ms. Kaneb argued that when the PILOT was discontinued, their water rates increased to cover the costs.

“You can’t say to me the village eliminated our maintenance fees when they increased our water rates,” she said. “They increased our water rates in 1997 to cover the costs of what I would have been paying with the PILOT.”

Mr. Fayad denied that the water rates were raised after the PILOT was discontinued, and the two have often cited different years in which the PILOT was discontinued.

Mr. Fayad had set aside $100,000 in his 2012-13 budget to repair the line, a cost which would have fallen to all village ratepayers. But village board members told him after budget workshops last year to come up with other options to pay for it.

Ms. Kaneb believes that by charging ratepayers near Highland Road a higher fee for maintenance, village officials are wilfully ignoring the actions of previous administrations regarding the take-over of that line and the PILOT it charged to the ratepayers who utilize it.

“The village is in total denial to what occurred. They seem to think the past doesn’t matter. It does matter,” she said.

She acknowledged the revised proposal is more favorable for those ratepayers, but believes the plan to charge them more than village residents is unfair on principle.

“Just because something is an improvement doesn’t mean it’s right. If it was wrong to begin with, isn’t this wrong also?” she said. “Wrong is still wrong.”

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