The Greenburgh Town Board decided to hold over a resolution July 10 that would authorize the Greenburgh Consolidated Water District No. 1 to increase water rates over a five-year period to fund a vast array of infrastructure improvements and capital projects, totaling an estimated $54 million.
“If you want to have a reliable water supply system, we have to pay for it and that’s not free,” said Dan Rosenblum, chairman of the Water District Advisory Committee, which is made up of residents who advise both the town and the water district. “The rates we came up with, the water advisory committee gave it a lot of thought.”
Over the next five years, a typical resident who uses 15,000 gallons of water per quarter within the Greenburgh Consolidated Water District No. 1 — which includes Edgemont and a majority of the unincorporated portion of Greenburgh — will see his or her projected water rate increase 8.5%. According to the projected quarterly residential bills, a typical resident who pays $93 quarterly this year will pay $131 by 2023, an increase of about 42% or $38.
Residents will be expected to see an 8% increase in 2020, a 7.5% increase in 2021, a 7.5% increase in 2022 and a 5% increase in 2023.
Although the plan calls for a yearly increase in water rates, the water district will still have a lower rate after this year’s rate hike than Sleepy Hollow, Rye, Mamaroneck, Elmsford, Larchmont, New Rochelle and villages and towns that use the Suez water company.
According to Greenburgh Department of Public Works Commissioner Victor Carosi at a June 12 town board public hearing on the water rate increase, the planned capital projects supported by a water rate increase would include water tank restoration, water main cleaning and lining, and water main replacements by 2021.
“This five-year capital plan and rate model development is shaped to offer predictable rate changes over the five years, and to temper the use of general obligation bonds with cash reserves when appropriate,” Carosi said at the public hearing.
In 2022, the bulk of the capital project expenses will be allocated to improve the Knollwood pump station, a project Supervisor Paul Feiner said is “the most important infrastructure initiative the town has embarked on.”
The estimated $36.3 million project would include the installation of roughly 6,000 feet of pipe to connect the Knollwood pump station to the Rumbrook pumping station.
“I consider this a major positive for the town because we’re basically addressing infrastructure,” Feiner said about the water rate increase. If problems arose currently at the Knollwood pump station, then the entire water district would be crippled, according to Feiner. Connecting the two pump stations would allow for better consolidation of resources and a safety net if something were to go wrong.
“The facilities are all pretty old and as of right now, most of the water from the town comes through Knollwood,” said Rosenblum.
The water district purchases water directly from New York City, which then flows into the town’s water pumping stations from the Delaware and Catskills aqueducts.
Roughly 36% of each dollar of rate revenue is spent purchasing water from New York City, which changes rates yearly.
“The rates at this point are being largely driven by our capital needs more than the water [price] increases from New York City,” said Carosi. “Though those are a factor and do remain a singularly large source of our cost, the increases we’re seeing are mainly related to the capital debt that the district will be carrying for our improvements.”
The projected debt service will reach $4.4 million in 2023, a 155% cumulative increase from 2019. The town applied for and was awarded $9.6 million in grants from the state for water infrastructure projects, according to Carosi.
Although the town did hold two public hearings regarding the water district rate increases, some residents on the social media site Nextdoor were displeased with the lack of notification from Feiner through the town’s email listserv.
A notice about the water rate increase was posted on the Greenburgh Town website July 10 and sent to residents via the listserv on July 9 — two weeks after the last town board public hearing on the water rate increase.
According to Feiner, he attempted to send an email through the listserv regarding the water rate increase on June 26 prior to the second public hearing, but could not because the email included attachments.
Edgemont resident Lucas Cioffi, Feiner’s likely opponent in the November general election, was one of the attendees at the meeting who disagreed with Feiner’s approach to transparency.
“When you look at [the town board’s] actions in the aggregate, it’s hard to believe they truly want to hear from the public on this issue,” Cioffi told the Inquirer. “If they really wanted to hear input from the public they would’ve presented more options.”
Cioffi doesn’t believe the town is doing anything wrong, but believes the public is dealing with limited information and deserves to be involved in the entire process. Cioffi wants the public to have access to more details about the town’s major water assets — especially about the facilities’ current state. He also wants to see a “frequently asked questions” section added on the town website, so more residents can be informed without having to ask repetitive questions.
Feiner told the Inquirer that he would be working with the town’s website and cable management personnel to create and post a YouTube video that would combine the public hearings and comments in regards to the water rate increase.
“[The town] could operate in a much more open way,” said Cioffi. “If they know these infrastructure costs are coming down the road, we should hear about it more than just two weeks in advance because these are some substantial costs.”
A vote on the resolution to change the water rate is scheduled for the July 24 town board meeting.