Sewer tax rates expected to rise for Niskayuna District 6

A commemorative ground breaking in April 2017, marking continued improvements to Niskayuna's wastewater treatment plant. Gazette File PhotoA commemorative ground breaking in April 2017, marking continued improvements to Niskayuna's wastewater treatment plant. Gazette File Photo
By Jeff Wilkin
Gazette Reporter
Aug. 24, 2018

Residents of Niskayuna’s Sewer District 6 are expected to pay more for sewage treatment during the autumn billing period.

The new residential rate under consideration by the Town Board is $2.50 per 1,000 gallons of water treated — an increase of 50 cents per gallon from the current $2 rate — but officials said most residents will pay a lesser amount.

Money paid will be determined by water used.

“The annual rate increase, based on consumption, would be for most residents in District 6 between a 9 and 13 percent increase,” said Town Board Member Denise Murphy McGraw, chairwoman of the town’s Public Works Committee.

The Town Board is expected to approve the increase at its next meeting, slated to start at 7 p.m .on Aug. 28. The town is also expected to enact — for the first time — separate rates for residential and commercial sewer users.

The proposed commercial rate is $3 per 1,000 gallons of treated sewage.

Board members John Della Ratta, Bill McPartlon and Lisa Weber earlier this week endorsed the proposal; all are Democrats, as is McGraw. Supervisor Yasmine Syed is the lone Republican on the board.

A much higher tax rate had been discussed for District 6, which serves 4,250 households — the majority of the town. There are only two sewer districts in Niskayuna.

“What was suggested to us and what was proposed was to go from a $2 unit fee to a $4 per 1,000 gallons fee,” McGraw said. “We wanted to take a harder look at that. We weren’t just willing to say, ‘OK, we can double everybody’s sewer usage fee.

“The increase is due to the upgrades and the improvements to the wastewater treatment facility, which were critical to the town. We had to do them; everybody understands the need for them.”

Debt service payments are due on the $13.9 million borrowed for the project’s first and second phases, which included capacity upgrades and treatment improvements.

McGraw said the $4 rate — proposed by the town comptroller’s office and water and sewer department personnel — was reduced for residential customers by a fee structure that differentiates between them and commercial properties.

“We said there should be a differential between commercial and residential,” McGraw added. “They’re using more; they require more of our system. The comptroller went back and looked at that. We can legally do that, and it just seemed like a more fair way to approach it.”

A homeowner who lives alone and does not need much water treatment, McGraw said, should not have been asked to pay the same rate as a large industrial user.

Syed said residential properties are classified by tier. The first tier includes homes that require treatment of up to 25,000 gallons of water per year.

“The proposed annual average charge will be $310,” Syed said. “That’s the combined rate of actual unit charge — which is staying the same at $185 — combined with the average annual treatment charge, which is now increased from $100 to $125. So, that’s a straight 25 percent increase.”

McGraw stressed that most will not pay that much. Consumption of water is the determining factor.

“Most people will not pay that full 25 percent because they don’t use that much,” she said.

“I think we did the best we could given the situation,” Syed said. “I believe it’s the most fair and equitable split regarding residential and commercial, the rates, the way that they’re applied.”

Niskayuna’s other district, District 1, serves 2,500 residents. Sewage from those properties, which border the city of Schenectady and are located near the Niskayuna Co-op food market, is treated by the city. Niskayuna collects sewer use taxes and then pays the city for that treatment.

“The rates for District 6 are lower than District 1, even with the increase,” Syed said. “The other part of town [District 1] now pays about $3.85 for 1,000 gallons. The city of Schenectady is treating sewage at a more expensive rate than Niskayuna.”

The supervisor added that residents will have the opportunity to discuss concerns about the sewer increase during the “privilege of the floor” session that will precede resolution votes and discussion matters at the Aug. 28 board meeting.

“We can certainly understand the concern,” Syed said. “It’s an increase, and people living on a certain budget themselves — to have to deal with an increase — I can certainly understand why there might be some pushback.”

The third phase of the wastewater treatment project is underway and is expected to be completed by next summer.