As part of a five-year plan for water rates, the Scarsdale village government will, for the fourth time, increase the water base rate as well as include the addition of an excess rate Tier 2, in order to meet the needs of a degrading water infrastructure system.
“We’re identifying in this capital budget for water [that] we have work to get done out there,” said Village Manager Stephen Pappalardo. “We’re at a point where we have to invest in the infrastructure.”
The village’s new water rate of $3.50 per 50 units (37,450 gallons), up from $3.20 in 2018 is still considered the second lowest water rate in Westchester County; the City of White Plains has the lowest rate. The Scarsdale water fund is one of the largest funds in the enterprise, with an allocated $9.2 million for the 2018-19 year. In 2018, there was a recorded $8.1 million in assets for buildings and $7 million in water infrastructure.
Currently there is $1 million allocated in the 2019-20 budget for work on the water infrastructure. Over the next four fiscal years there is $6.6 million laid out for water infrastructure analysis, repair and restoration, according to Pappalardo.
“That’s what we’re laying out here,” said Pappalardo. “We have to make sure that we have the money to manage our whole operation — that doesn’t go away — but also pay the debt for the capital improvements.”
The water utility in Scarsdale consists of two water pumping stations, two water towers, and over 100 miles of distribution lines. Repairs are constant because the system was built and has operated for over a century. In the last decade there have been major renovations to the Ardsley Road and Reeves Newsom pumping stations. In the upcoming fall, there will be a planned $2 million renovation of the Arthur Boniface Water Tower on Garden Road.
A map showing the amount of pipe breaks, organized by year, is currently being created by the water department, according to Scarsdale Water Superintendent Stephen Johnson.
The introduction of an excess rate Tier 2, which will be 3.5 times the base rate, will affect 10 to 15 percent of residents who produce more than 125 units (93,625 gallons) per quarter.
“We want a sustainable water fund,” said Village Treasurer Mary Lou McClure. “We are looking to make sure whatever we bill out in the base rate and the excess rate going forward will sustain the water fund operations.”
In 2018, the water fund lowered the excess water rate from 3.5 times the base rate to 3 times the base rate. Because Scarsdale purchases its water from New York City, the amount Scarsdale is charged for excess water will determine how much the village will charge residents.
“When the city reduced its fees for excess water to the Village, we felt an obligation to pass those reductions on to the user,” said Pappalardo.
The water fund has been a progressive system, with the majority of high-end water users paying more than the entitlement rate. The thought process behind including excess rates was to entice high water users to conserve, but “it never did,” said Pappalardo. “They just kept using that water,” he said, “and we were collecting a lot of money from them to the point where we became very dependent on excess water revenue coming in.”
Because New York City kept raising its rate on the sale of water to Scarsdale, there was an attempt to balance the highly progressive water system and raise entitlement rates.
“We get into a bit of a quagmire when we end up pushing conservation efforts, which we all want,” said Village Manager Stephen Pappalardo. “Water is a precious natural resource and we want people to conserve, but the more people conserve, the less revenue we have to run the fund.”
As the water rate has increased since 2016, there has been a 20 percent decrease in billed units, because people have decided to conserve, motivated either by the high cost or environmental sustainability.
The water fund has also seen a 10 percent decrease in combined flow totals since 2013.
“There’s a lot of things that we’re going to be working on,” said Johnson. “I can’t wait to get started.”