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Village Board in quandary on water rate

East Aurora doesn't have much of a history of passing along Erie County water rate increases to its residents, and that is heightening concerns at Village Hall about how its water fund can continue to operate with a negative cash flow.

The latest war of words came this week, when Village Board trustees again argued over the merits of passing along a 4 percent water rate increase from the county Water Authority that was to have kicked in Jan. 1.

It comes at a time when $2,700 remains in the village water fund's checking account as of Jan. 7. Since 2002, the village has adopted only one water rate increase, that being last April for an average of 6 percent to 7 percent that wasn't effective until September's quarterly billing. Over the years, the village water fund's coffers have dwindled to a negative cash balance -- also leading to a water fund debt owed to the general fund, which has helped offset water fund shortfalls.

Four trustees voted against the increase in December following a public hearing that only drew criticism from former Mayor John Pagliaccio.

If approved, the rate increase would mean residents could see their quarterly bills increase an average of 50 cents, to $3.80, depending on water use. Restaurants could face paying around $19 more per 90-day billing quarter.

But during the board's work session this week, Trustee Patrick McDonnell criticized the county for what he termed "constantly forcing increases."

"Every year, we look at rate increases. Where does it end?" he asked.

"It's frustrating with the county continuing to increase water rates larger than the inflation rate," agreed Trustee Ernest Scheer. ". . . I want to know why the county water [authority] has a $25 million surplus. Why pass another increase?"

The bottom line, though, is that the village has no reserve for repairs or maintenance of its water system because of no increased revenues, Village Administrator Kimberly LaMarche said.

LaMarche pointed out that village auditors have recommended the board adopt yearly water rate increases and that she would prefer to see the village adopt 2 percent yearly raises instead of ones that end up coming in around 7 percent.

e-mail: krobinson@buffnews.com

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