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Water will cost the average residential tap owner about $4 a year more as a result of an across-the-board rate increase imposed Tuesday night by the Olean Common Council.

Aldermen voted 5-2 for the change in a bid to replenish the lagging water fund and increase quarterly revenues.

It is also projected to repay within 10 years a number of loans from the general fund that Mayor James P. Griffin said have been charged to taxpayers instead of water users. Those loans have created a general fund deficit of almost half a million dollars, he added.

The water funds income is limited to user fees so more revenue must come from that source. He said many homeowners are tax exempt, causing an undue burden on some taxpayers who must subsidize other water users if the money is taken from the general fund.

Griffin termed the hike "modest," stating the city's rates are lower than nearby communities.

Under the new schedule, domestic and commercial billing will remain on a quarterly basis. Industrial users will continue to pay different monthly rates.

Domestic, or residential, users will pay a minimum of $20.76 for the first 1,000 cubic feet of water each month. Those rates will increase $1.67 for each additional 100 cubic feet up to 4,000 cubic feet and continue to increase in smaller increments for greater volume.

Commercial fees for retailers, small businesses and merchants will be the same as the minimum rate for domestic users but slightly higher for larger quantities. For example, the next 4,000 cubic feet will be charged at the rate of $1.86 for each 100 cubic feet.

Industrial water fees are based on a minimum use of 10,000 cubic feet at a cost of $146.19, increasing at a rate of $9.73 per 1,000 cubic feet up to 20,000 cubic feet.

The industries using in excess of 1,010,000 cubic feet will be billed at $151.94 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Public Works Director Peter Marcus said Olean General Hospital is charged at commercial rates but uses larger quantities than other businesses in that category. Industrial accounts in the city's manufacturing sector have drastically reduced their use of water in recent years, he said, citing the example of Dresser, which saw a drop from 2 million gallons a day to 350,000 gallons a day.

Outgoing Ward 2 Alderman Robert Kent voted no, chiding the Council for refusing to allocate a promised $1 million per year to repair the city's water mains.

"Forty percent of the water is being lost between the water treatment plant and the faucet," he said, urging the administration to repair the water lines before raising rates.

Ward 7 Alderman John Padlo also voted against the measure without comment.

In other action, the Council approved a four-year contract with Professional Firefighters Association Local 1796, negotiated in August.

The contract provides a $1,800 wage adjustment for the 1999-2000 fiscal year retroactive to June 1 and a 4 percent pay increase for the next three years. The union, with about 57 members, approved it in late August.

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