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Schenectady residents upset over increased water, sewer fees

Schenectady residents upset over increased water, sewer fees

City's 1 percent tax cut negated by rise
Schenectady residents upset over increased water, sewer fees
Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy (right) during Gov. Andrew Cuomo's State of the State address Wednesday.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER

SCHENECTADY — Residents weren’t happy when they looked at their tax bill this past weekend to see an increase in their water and sewer bills.

After the city approved its $85.2 million budget for 2018, it said it would come with a 1 percent property tax cut.

What many residents didn’t know, but was included in the budget, was that their annual water fee, on average, would go up $7.10 and their annual sewage fee would go up approximately $13.27. Sewer and water charges are separate fees that are not considered part of the property tax.

The cost to each household is different, though. While residents pay a flat rate for their water and sewer bills, those rates depend on how many fixtures are in a household that use water, according Paul LaFond, commissioner of general services for the city.

Independent Councilman Vince Riggi said his sewage bill increased from $312.48 last year to $325.77 this year. His water bill went from $218 last year to $225 this year.

Riggi said that while there was a tax cut, the rise in water and sewer rates negated it.

“I’m not saying people were purposely misled, but they’ve been misled,” Riggi said.

Mayor Gary McCarthy said some of the money from the increased fees will go toward infrastructure projects such as the new pump station being built in the Stockade neighborhood and upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant.

Councilwoman Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, chairwoman of the city’s Public Service and Utilities Committee, said the increase will allow the city to maintain its current water and sewer infrastructure. She added that it will also allow the city to build a contingency if anything were to go wrong.

It's the first time in years that water and sewer fees were raised, she said.

“From our perspective, we don’t want an emergency situation where we neglected to do upgrades,” Zalewski-Wildzunas said.

Riggi and Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo said they were fielding calls over the weekend from residents upset with the increased fees. 

Dolores Francis, a resident of the Woodlawn neighborhood, said her water and sewer rates went up by $8.63 and $16.14, respectively. When factoring the property tax cut, she'll end up paying the city about 12 cents more overall.

But she was confused as to why her bill went up at all, considering the Rivers Casino and Resort was supposed to bring money into the city.

“Where is the money going to?” Francis asked. “Taxpayers have been faithful all of these years, and they’re not seeing anything.”

The city was expecting approximately $2.75 million in revenue. McCarthy, during his 2016 budget presentation, said the revenue from the casino could bring a potential 10 percent tax cut. That has yet to materialize, But McCarthy said they’re still working toward it.

The first round of revenue from the casino went to settle the $1.6 million city police union contract in 2016, and the $1.4 million firefighters’ union contract in 2017.

Kosiur said he understands the frustration from residents, but said the city needs to invest in its future now.

“I’m well aware of the impact, as little as it is, on working families and the senior population,” Kosiur said. “But we have to [raise water and sewer rates] to keep infrastructure in good shape.”

Councilman John Polimeni, chairman of the city Finance Committee, said he knows most of the council is frustrated with the situation, but said it’s important to take care of the city.

“Look, it’s not ideal,” Polimeni said. “But city taxes did go down, and water and sewer rates went up. I understand the frustration, I really do.”

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