By ASHLEY HELMS
Residents in the Village of Mamaroneck have been paying more than those in the Town/Village of Harrison and the unincorporated section of the Town of Mamaroneck for their Westchester Joint Water Works bills, but that is slated to change.
The Village of Mamaroneck can expect to see its water bills decrease by 16 percent after the controversial decision was passed by a 3-2 partisan vote by the Board of Trustees on Sept. 23.
Opponents of the decrease wanted to keep the water bills flat in order to set aside money for fines that may be levied against the village for failing to meet deadlines for the construction of a mandated water treatment facility. Those who supported the decrease felt that it was not necessary to keep residents’ water bills high for fines of an unclear amount that may, or, as they argue, may not, occur.
Leon Potok, a Democrat, was one of three trustees, along with fellow Democrats Andres Bermudez Hallstrom and Ilissa Miller, to vote in favor of the 16 percent decrease.
“In terms of best practices in the business and municipal government world, it is best to accrue for actual liabilities, not for potential or contingent liabilities, and charge residents for the services they receive,” Potok said.
The Westchester Joint Water Works is a municipally regulated entity that provides water to the Village of Mamaroneck, the Town of Harrison and the unincorporated Town of Mamaroneck by buying water from New York City. Rates are set on a yearly scale by considering how much the water will cost to purchase and what the anticipated operating expenses will be at different water consumption levels, along with possible infrastructure repairs and the subsequent expenses involved in those repairs for each municipality.
For the past four years, the village has had higher water rates than neighboring Harrison and the unincorporated Town of Mamaroneck because it made a decision to include in its rates costs additional funding related to a court order that called for the construction of an ultraviolet water disinfectant plant near Rye Lake. The towns of Mamaroneck and Harrison decided to forgo including the extra charges needed to comply with that order in its water bills. These costs include a combination of fines for not meeting construction deadlines related to the treatment plant and the overall building of the facility, according to Westchester Joint Water Works Manager Anthony Conetta.
Putting aside money for possible fines is strictly the village’s decision, Conetta said.
“All three municipalities will be expected to spend more money in the next five years. It will likely be spent on construction leading up to the pipeline or a combination of construction and fines,” he said.
The water works proposes a yearly rate, and then it’s up to each governing body in its associated municipalities to approve the rates. When the water works collects the ensuing revenue, it goes toward paying for water purchases and various expenses, after which the excess is used for debt service.
For the next year, the unincorporated Town of Mamaroneck will see an 8.7 percent increase in rates and the Town of Harrison will see a 6.5 percent increase. The water works, which is chaired by Village of Mamaroneck Mayor Norman Rosenblum, suggested the village increase its rates by 15 percent after taking all future expenses into account.
About $4.2 million has been saved by the village for any debts that may need to be paid, Potok said, and the village could cut its rates by 16 percent and use about $3 million to pay for expenditures going forward. The goal, Potok said, is to have about $1 million set aside for debt service, making it possible for the village to stop accruing for fines.
“Essentially, what we’ll end up with are rates within 1 percent of what residents in the [unincorporated] Town of Mamaroneck will pay and what residents in the Town of Harrison will pay,” Potok said, in reference to lowering the rates by 16 percent.
But Rosenblum, a Republican, suggested that the village not increase its rates and leave them flat. He made a motion to approve a 0 percent rate increase, but the vote was defeated 3-2, with Republican Deputy Mayor Louis Santoro joining Roseblum in a party-line vote.
The mayor said the village has to protect itself and that it could be acquiring debt by decreasing the rates. No matter what you do, it’s not free, Rosenblum said, and he feels that the neighboring municipalities will have to come up with more money in the future by not accruing for the treatment plant fines.
“To knock [the rates] down by 14, 16 or 21 percent I think is irresponsible. Temporarily you can be at 0 percent [increase] and see what the impact is,” Rosenblum said.
Village government must be reasonable and prudent by assuming that the village will be fined, Rosenblum said, and the village trustees owe it to residents and business owners to maintain a conservative approach.
“To have a reduction, it may sound great and, politically, it would be a wonderful thing, but you’re selling the future of the residents and businesses of the Village of Mamaroneck down the tubes, as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
Trustee Miller said that the village is not giving back to the water works by decreasing the rates and she doesn’t think the village will have to pay any incredibly high fines.
“This allows us to pay for what we use as we use it fairly,” she said.