Raising water rates for city of Dunkirk customers is not a one-step process, neither is passing a city budget.
Common Council took one of those steps for each process Tuesday with public hearings prior to its regular meeting. Neither was overrun with speakers.
The hearing on Mayor Anthony J. Dolce's 2013 proposed spending plan saw one person speak. City resident Thomas Taylor questioned the water rate hike during the four-minute hearing.
OBSERVER Photo by Gib Snyder
Dunkirk Mayor Anthony J. Dolce explains the rationale behind the water rate increase in response to questions during Tuesday’s Common Council meeting and public hearings.
Taylor pointed out the increase will total $50 per year for the next two years.
"My question is really simple then; why doesn't the city investigate and look at proactive charging by the gallon?" he asked. "If they do that, if they want to assess a little fee for transmission, that's one thing. Being that I'm a person who's just filed for early retirement, I'm looking at fixed income and it may not seem like $50 a year is a lot right now, but if you're talking two years and $100, and then five years from now what's it going to be for the senior citizens."
He added he was sure there were other areas to cut and asked council to find them. Councilwoman-at-Large Stephanie Kiyak called the hearing closed when no one else wished to speak.
The public hearing on the water rate increase began as scheduled at 5:20 p.m. with Kiyak saying any questions would be submitted to the city clerk and a timely response would follow.
City resident James Muscato said he was curious.
"I'm sure other people are too," he added. "Just how did you come to the $11.50 increase in the water rates?"
Kiyak replied that it was a time for public comments and not answering questions. She added questions must be submitted in writing to get a response.
Taylor then spoke again, restating his objections to the hike in rates and again suggesting billing per gallon.
"I just think this hasn't been thought out enough. When you look at the ramifications of the percentage you're talking about raising per year and we're only talking a two-year period now. Down the road what's that going to do?" he asked. "I understand things go up and there's prices on everything, but I'm quite sure the water rate and other things in this city can be downsized and I think things need to be looked at in a more logical and realistic state. Dunkirk's got less than 12,000 people now and when you keep going on and keep raising rates for utilities or services and everything else you're going to lose your base. The more you lose your base the more you're going to raise it for people that are here."
Taylor noted he was born and raised in the city and said council needs to take a "good look" at what's happening in the city.
"You're losing public support and pretty soon you're going to lose people, and the more you lose people you're not going to have a council and you're not going to have this other stuff," he stated. "I think you really, really need to take a good look at what you're doing. Just like with what's happening in the world today, this is a very important time. Please look at it carefully."
Kiyak thanked him for his comments and closed the hearing at 5:24 p.m. Dolce responded to the hearings during his report time in council's regular meeting and began by thanking Taylor and Muscato for their questions on the water rates.
"I can assure you much time and effort was put into arriving at the numbers we arrived at. Basically, we have approximately $17 million in debt that will occur because of the consent order, we have to pay for that," Dolce explained. "As far as what's been budgeted so far, I believe it's just over $1 million, leaving about $16 million we need to make up. Basically, we took that number, our debt service over the next 25 years, and worked backwards."
Dolce said there were a lot of unknowns if the per-gallon billing was the focus.
"Instead, we focused on the minimums. What minimums would get us to where we need to be after two years?" Dolce asked. "That's how we arrived at $11.25 a quarter; $45 a year; $90 over the next two years. We're still working diligently to get the (New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation) financing. If the EFC financing comes into place there's a slight chance that we can roll back rates a little in the second year.
"That's where we're at. That's it. Basically we needed to fund this consent order. This isn't something we enjoy doing. It's something we deliberated for many months, I would say at least three months we were going back and forth with different end views. So this is where we're at."
Second Ward Councilman William J. Rivera also thanked Taylor and Muscato.
"Your concerns are my concerns but unfortunately, as Mayor Dolce explained, to cover the $17 million we have to cover, quite honestly I feel that we got away pretty easy this time around," Rivera stated. " ... We may not be so lucky next time. I'm just being a realist and realistic with the situation here, but to be honest with you, I'm pretty happy with the increase in the rate. I really do believe that it could have been higher. It could have been worse."
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