Bolton PointThe Village of Lansing Board of Trustees voted Monday to approve new water rates paid to the Southern Cayuga Lake Intermunicipal Water Commission (Bolton Point).  The 2% rise from last year's rate includes a minimum quarterly charge of $44.40 for 10,000 gallons whether they are consumed or not.  Mayor Donald Hartill says that half of Bolton Point's customers subsidize heavier water users to the tune of $300,000, or 7% of Bolton Point's current $4.2 million budget.  Hartill argues that is unfair.

"Right now many senior citizens are using less water," he said.  "Half the customers of Bolton Point use less than 10,000 gallons per quarter.  Many of the people in that category are people with fixed incomes.  Having a fixed fee and paying by the thousand gallons does the things that you'd like to do.  It forces conservation.  Some of the big users, Ithaca College, for example, are subsidized by this process to the tune of about $30,000 per year.  It's on the pricey side in terms of what you and I pay for the minimum charge."

The $4.44 per thousand gallon rate only represents what Bolton Point gets.  Each of the participating municipalities adds to that fee to cover expenses that may include laying new and/or fixing existing water mains and administrative costs.   The Village of Lansing adds a 25% surcharge to maintain infrastructure and pay for other water expenses.

The Water Commission is made up of five communities that provide municipal water from Bolton Point.  The Town of Ithaca is the biggest user, followed by the Village of Lansing, Village of Cayuga Heights, the Town of Lansing, and finally the Town of Dryden.  Each community provides two Water Commissioners.  Hartill has been a commissioner for many years.  H. Michael Newman is the second Village of Lansing commissioner, and also the current chairperson.  Supervisor Kathy Miller and former Lansing School Business Administrator Tom Jones are the Town of Lansing commissioners.

For the past four years Hartill has been on a crusade to change the water rate structure, in response to water customers who have complained for years about the minimum charge.  Ladoga Park resident Dave heck has appeared before the Town and Village of Lansing boards multiple times to argue for a lower minimum charge threshold.

Hartill wants to eliminate the minimum charge entirely.  Instead, he proposes a $5 flat fee that all customers would pay in addition to a fixed dollar amount per thousand gallons actually consumed.  So if you use only 2,000 gallons in a quarter you would be billed a $5 fee plus $8.88 for the water ($4.44 per 1,000 gallons).  But despite years of discussion, the commission has not been able agree to change the rate structure.

Hartill says another water commissioner wants a straight charge for water consumed, while another has argued that changing the rate structure will discourage businesses from locating or remaining in the participating communities.  He said that if there were to be a vote at the Commission's next meeting it would be close.

Hartill outlined the calculation used to come up with the current rate structure for the Village Trustees.  The actual cost of producing a thousand gallons of water is $5.09.  That figure is adjusted downward, this year to $4.44 per thousand gallons.

"We end up with $4.44," Hartill said.  "That translates to a 2% increase from last year.  But that increase is borne on the backs of the people who pay the minimum charge."

Hartill is proposing that every user pay a quarterly fee of $5 which would be established in place of the 10,000 gallon minimum charge.  That fee would replace the approximately $300,000 that minimum water users currently pay.  Hartill says that would replace the subsidy and customers that consume more water would pay more than under the current rate structure.  He says that $300,000 accounts for approximately 7% of Bolton Point's current budget of $4.2 million, which pays to produce 829 million gallons in a year, including operating expenses and rebuilding depleted capital reserves.

Hartill says the levy of water charges would be the same, so no revenue would be lost.  The difference would be in how the money is collected.  He argues that under his plan, users would fairly pay for water they use.

"Right now if you're using exactly 10,000 you pay $44.40," he says.  "If you go to (Hartill's plan), the break-even point where you would pay less would be about 8,000 gallons per quarter.  That slice from 8,000 to 10,000 you're going to pay a little more.  But the folks down below 8,000 are going to save.  The water is relatively cheap, but on the other hand it has to be paid for.  The big users are going to pay more."

Hartill told the Trustees that eliminating the minimum charge is simply a matter of fairness.  While he appeared frustrated by his inability to sway the Commission, he was optimistic that the rate structure will eventually change.

"It's just a matter of how you're going to collect it," he said.  "We'll keep working.  We'll succeed."