Phoenicia water rate plan stirs debate

By Jay Braman Jr.
The Shandaken Town Board has delayed the adoption of new bylaws for the Phoenicia Water District following a public hearing Monday night that ran well into overtime.
The hearing on the Phoenicia district changes, slated to last only 15 minutes, went for an hour-and-a-half as a handful of residents complained that the new bylaws include revised usage rates that raise property taxes for those in the district while lowering the expense of water for a handful of businesses.
If adopted as planned, the new rates would represent a reversal of a decision made two years ago that business owners complained about. At that time the town board, under former supervisor Robert Cross Jr., eliminated the old flat rate policy and adopted rates that put the cost of water on those who use it.
“It’s only fair that people pay for the water they use,” Cross said at the time.
That decision came about after there was a huge increase in property tax in the water district due to capital improvements made to the system. By changing the rates and charging larger users for using more, property taxes went down.
Monday night Supervisor Peter DiSclafani agreed this new proposal, prepared by a volunteer committee, may cause property taxes to go up again. If adopted, he said, it could be altered by the town board at any time.
“We’ll keep an eye on it,” he said, noting that the next time the revenues will be added up would be in April. At that time the town will have an idea of how much of a revenue shortfall, if any, may occur.
There are other variables to consider. Repairs to leaks in the system have saved up to 75,000 gallons per day.
Proposed rates are as follows: 0- 20,000 gallons would cost $100 per year; a fee of $5 for every 1,000 gallons used above 20,000 gallons; a fee of $4.50 for every 1,000 gallons used above 100,000 gallons; a fee of $4 for every 1,000 gallons used above 200,000 gallons and a fee of $3.50 for every 1,000 gallons used above 400,000 gallons.
Under the new laws property owners would be charged “a minimum biannual fee” of $150 if their water meter were malfunctioning. It is the responsibility of the owner to contact the water district to schedule repairs, and the owner will be responsible for the cost of the repairs.
It remains unclear when the town board will decide whether to adopt the proposed bylaws, DiSclafani said, in light of the concerns raised at Monday’s hearing.