One year after it signed a lease-management agreement with the Erie County Water Authority, the Town of Clarence on Thursday formally turned over its entire water system to the authority in ceremonies at Town Hall.
"When we went to lease mangement a year ago, our water rate to consumers dropped from $2.90 per 1,000 gallons to $2.20 per 1,000 gallons because we could phase out the personnel needed to run a local system," said Town Supervisor Daniel A. Herberger.
"We were buying water at the $2.20 rate and passing that cost on to consumers, adding an operations fee on top of that."
But lease management also meant that any repairs, replacement of aging pipe or valves and any extensions of water lines were the community's responsibility. Over the past 10 years, Clarence has installed 28 miles of new water line and issued bonds to pay for it.
In addition, because it was not charging as much as it should, the Clarence water budget also was paying off a $1 million deficit.
Under the new direct-service agreement, the county authority now owns the town's water infrastructure and will be responsible for repair, replacement and expansion, authority officials said.
In exchange, the authority gets a route to further service agreements to communities lying east of Clarence. This marks a further expansion toward a single, countywide water system.
The town, on the other hand, will never again have to pay to lay water lines into new developments.
Clarence still has six years of bond payments for the water lines it built, Herberger said, but he believes the $1 million water operations bond debt can be retired this year without any effect on the tax rate.
Consumers who saw their water bills drop by 20 percent a year ago, to $2.20 per 1,000 gallons, now will pay $2.22 -- the current countywide rate. Most residential consumers will see little difference in their quarterly water bills.
"The only thing that changes is the minimum charge," Herberger said. "We charged customers a minimum of $9.20 per quarter for 5,000 gallons of water, and the county minimum is $19.98 for 9,000 gallons every three months. That could mean a hike for a single person who does not use the minimum every three months."