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Sewer Authority holds the line on fees in proposed budget

Most Buffalo property owners will not have to begin paying higher sewer rates this summer, officials announced Wednesday.

The Sewer Authority plans to hold the line on fees next month when it approves a $55.3 million budget. Sewer fees increased 22.7 percent last summer, costing the average homeowner an additional $72. Last year's increase and changes that have reduced energy consumption at treatment facilities will allow the authority to keep rates at current levels.

Customers pay two sets of sewer charges, one based on water usage and the other on the assessed valuation of properties. Neither rate will increaseJuly 1, said David P. Comerford, the authority's general manager.

Property owners whose assessments increase this year will end up paying higher sewer fees. But more than 90 percent of all property owners will not face higher sewer bills.

Mayor Byron W. Brown said he was pleased the authority will be able to balance its budget without increasing sewer charges. Rates have gone up in three of the last five years. Officials blamed the string of increases on rising utility costs and higher borrowing expenses for system upgrades mandated by the state and federal governments. Brown said holding the line on sewer rates has been a key priority since Comerford became general manager in January.

"We're pleased that the new administration has been able to achieve that goal," Brown said.

Comerford said administrative costs would be down slightly, although the tentative budget calls for no personnel cuts. He added that officials are exploring other ways to save money.

"The mayor is trying to bring jobs and people back here," Comerford said. "Keeping rates down is important. And it's also important because we have a lot of older folks on pensions who live in the city."

Last month, some Water Board officials had expressed a desire to hold the line on water rates in the coming year. While water and sewer fees appear on the same bill, the separate charges are set by different boards.

Water rates have gone up every year since 2001. Rate increases have totaled 64 percent for metered customers and 55 percent for those paying flat rates.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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