By Timothy Chipp
NIAGARA FALLS —
The Niagara Falls Water Board met to discuss its preliminary budget for next year — a plan that could include a water meter rate hike for the overwhelming majority of its residential district customers.
Currently, 17,675 of the 17,923 total customers in a residential meter zone have a 5/8-inch meter, which the budget proposes an extra charge of $2.14 per quarter. If the board adopts this rate hike, these customers would see their yearly rate increase to $20 from its current $11.44.
The rate increase was brought on by a projected $1.75 million deficit, according to Director of Financial Services Mary Jean Buddenhagen.
“We were still unable to balance the budget in the end,” she told the five-member board during her presentation of the spending plan on Thursday. “We’re seeing a trend of revenue decline.”
Industrial customers would also see a rate hike in its most common segment, she said. The majority of those customers fall under the one-inch size meter, which could see its charges increase to $40 per quarter, a jump of $32.87 per billing period.
Buddenhagen said she’s recommending the increases after her efforts to cut expenditures, including the elimination of four positions, still didn’t balance.
Those positions, she said, are important, but necessary, to cut.
“Though they are necessary, we simply could not afford to fill them,” she said.
With the cuts, the board would decrease its hired workforce from 94 to 90. By comparison, more than 130 employees were working in 2004.
Additional cost increases include a projected 20 percent jump in both health insurance costs to employees and the board’s contributions to the state retirement pensions, a $107,000 increase in power costs, and a jump of $150,000 in chemical expenditures.
Despite the reductions in staffing and increase in rate, Buddenhagen said her projections for 2013 are even worse. She said the board is facing a potential $1.3 million deficit going forward.
Also at Thursday’s meeting, several speakers addressed the board concerning the potential of the board accepting, treating and releasing waste water from hydraulic fracturing operations.
The speakers presented pleas to keep the water, which is reported to contain several known carcinogens and other toxic chemicals, from entering the area.
The fracturing, otherwise known as hydro-fracking, is a means of extracting natural gas from shale through the use of chemicals injected into the rock layers. Buffalo, Syracuse and New York City have all banned hydro-fracking and its bi-products.
Water Board Chairman Michael McNally informed the speakers of the board’s position of not accepting hydro-fracking or any wastewater associated with it.
“The board’s position is we are not accepting anything relating to hydro-fracking or any of its spoils,” he told the small group of speakers. “But we appreciate your input as it gives us more information to work with.”