OSWEGO, NY â€“ At its meeting Monday night, the Common Council voted 4-2-1 to approve the new sewer user fee schedule that raises sewer fees 50%.
Councilors Connie Cosemento (First Ward), Cathy Santos (Third Ward), Dan Donovan (Fifth Ward) and Ron Kaplewicz (Seventh Ward) voted in favor of the motion.
Opposing the hike were Shawn Walker (Fourth Ward) and Bill Sharkey (Seventh Ward).
Second Ward Councilor Mike Myers was absent.
Last week, Mayor Randy Bateman proposed increasing the rate as part of his budget message to the council.
â€œIn order to achieve sewer fund self-sufficiency by 2012, I am proposing a 50 percent increase in the sewer rates for 2011,â€ he said.
â€œAs you all know, the city has entered into a consent decree to separate and upgrade our west side sewer system infrastructure. One aspect of the consent decree is the creation of an Enterprise Fund whereby the sewer fund will be self-sufficient by 2012,â€ he continued.
The Consent Decree is a court order from the state that the city must comply with, proponents of the rate hike said.
Opponents claim residents canâ€™t afford to pay any more and some may even be forced out of there homes, and the city.
What does this mean to the average flat rate user?
Currently, the flat rate user pays $143 per quarter for water ($65) and sewer ($78).
By increasing the sewer fund rate 50 percent for the flat rate user, they would go from $78 per quarter to $117 per quarter.
The flat rate user total bill would increase from $143 per quarter for both water and sewer to $182.
This equates to an extra 43 cents per day, according to the mayor.
â€œLetâ€™s see, where do I start,â€ Councilor Walker began. â€œI have had people actually crying on my shoulder because of this sewer increase. I was elected by them people â€¦ Iâ€™m speaking for them right now. Iâ€™m going to say no on this.â€
â€œNobody wants to raise this fee. Nobody wants to pay this fee. But, we are under a court order to fix this sewer problem in the city. Itâ€™s not a problem we invented. We inherited it; and itâ€™s come to a head,â€ Council President Donovan pointed out.
One part of the order is to make the sewer fund self-sufficient, he said.
It is something the city must do, â€œas painful as it is,â€ Cosemento agreed.
â€œWe should be encouraging all homeowners in the city to use less water,â€ she said.Â â€œWe need to work together as a community. Another thing we should be telling our constituents is that they should get a (water) meter.â€
Kaplewicz said the city could ignore the consent decree. But that would probably cost the city millions in legal fees and sanctions from the state, he added.
â€œWe have a problem right now and we have to fix it,â€ he said.
He agreed that a water meter would be the best way to go for many city residents.
â€œEvery bit of water that goes down that drain it costs us to treat that water,â€ Kaplewicz said. â€œAfter the sewer fee is increased, if you decide to go metered, you will pay less per quarter than you currently pay for your flat rate.â€
â€œI am going to go and vote with Alderman Walker on this one,â€ Sharkey said. â€œI would rather give the keys of the city of Oswego to the state of New York than to watch one person lose their house and property. I would defy the consent order today as opposed to watching the taxpayers losing their houses.â€
â€œWith all due respect councilor, I would rather have all of us manage the city together than turn it over to the state,â€ Kaplewicz replied.
â€œWe have to make it self-sufficient by 2012. And, if that mean an increase next year, then weâ€™ll have to do it,â€ the mayor told Oswego County Today.com â€œThereâ€™s no sugar coating it. Everybody can cry gloom and doom; sure itâ€™s a big expense but weâ€™ll have to wait to see what happens. I canâ€™t say people are going to leave the city because of the sewer fee. Itâ€™s an easy comment to make and itâ€™s public grandstanding but we have to do what we have to do.â€
Bateman explained the city is looking at ways of making the rate hike less painful, such as finding new revenue sources or making cuts in other areas.
The people who use the cityâ€™s sewage treatment plants and donâ€™t pay property taxes, such as schools, churches, government buildings and other tax exempt properties are being subsidized by those who do pay property taxes in the amount of $1,304,537, the mayor pointed out.
â€œWho pays the school taxes? We do. Who pays hospital bills? We do. Who pays the church fees? We do,â€ Walker said.
â€œThere are many folks that go to school that donâ€™t live in the city of Oswego. There are many people who use the hospital that donâ€™t live in the city of Oswego. The court order is for the city of Oswego. Our citizens subsidize water for people who use our schools and our hospital that donâ€™t live in the city,â€ Cosemento said.
â€œThe consent decree is what it is. We have to abide by it,â€ the mayor said.