Schenectady County

Schenectady water bill formula may get simpler, fairer

Water bills may soon change to a simplified formula that will no longer rely on the number of toilet

Water bills may soon change to a simplified formula that will no longer rely on the number of toilets and showers in each house.

The change will also cut costs for owners of some large homes. Those with many bathrooms in their house were getting charged more than tenants with one bathroom, while using less water.

“It’s just not fair and equitable the way it’s being done now,” Deputy Director of Water and Wastewater Paul Lafond said. “If you have two bathrooms, you don’t use it more than if you have one bathroom.”

The current water formulas also lead to a wide range of charges for businesses. Used car lots, for example, are charged $273, $290 or $676.

“But there’s no definition of who gets charged what,” Lafond said. “Is it based on size? What size is which? This is what it’s been for years.”

He is proposing a $300 flat fee for single-family houses, with other flat fees for offices and commercial businesses. The exact amounts have not yet been calculated.

A single-family house now pays $171.83 for a water hookup to one bathroom. Then there’s a charge for frontage — $15 for every 25 feet, to simulate the cost of watering the lawn. There’s also charges for laundry hookups, a hose hookup in the garage, and other items. A second full bathroom costs $78.

Those buildings that use a meter now — including all houses with at least four units — will remain metered. Any business owner who objects to the new flat fee can buy a meter instead, Corporation Counsel John Polster said.

“If they feel the flat fee is prohibitive for their business, put in a meter, and we’ll charge them for exactly what they use,” he said.

Lafond said the fairest way to organize the system would be to charge everyone for their exact usage.

“It’s fair and equitable to put everybody on a meter; it’s just cost-prohibitive,” he said.

Changing the formulas may result in a cost increase for owners of small houses with one bathroom, while those with large houses with multiple bathrooms may see a decrease. But overall, the change will not generate more revenue for the city. By law, the water department can’t collect more than it spends.

The formulas have made it difficult to follow that law. A 1-percent increase in costs, for example, could not simply be passed on by adding 1 percent to every owner’s bill, Lafond said.

“One percent of a used car dealership’s fee is a lot more than one percent of a toilet,” he said. “You’ve got to put in a formula and have everything adjusted. It gets confusing. The purpose of this is just to get rid of all the clutter in the rate structure, really just cleaning it up a little bit.”

City Council members said they are generally supportive of the plan. It will be presented to them in more detail, with exact flat-fee amounts, during the budget process that begins Oct. 1.

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