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Mayor affirms increase in sewer rate

Mayor Patrick D. Kelahan told a group of angry residents this week that the village did not use proper procedure when it raised sewer rates by 30 percent last year, but that the new rate will stand.

The Village Board acted "absolutely against the law," he told a packed house at Thursday night's board meeting. In particular, Kelahan said, the March bills improperly applied the new rate to the previous cycle.

"We were absolutely not in compliance," he said, adding that board members also failed to heed state public hearing law for a separate notification of the sewer rate changes.

"I'm not going to step aside from that," Kelahan said.

The rates were raised last April as part of this year's village budget, passed after an advertised public hearing. The village neglected to hold a separate hearing required for the sewer rate changes, which were part of the budget.

Robert Martin, of Chestnut Street, said procedures need to be followed.

The new sewer rate -- $8 per 1,000 gallons, up from $5.60 from the previous fiscal year -- was sorely needed, the mayor said, to make up for the revenue lost when the Pfeiffer plant closed in November 2009. He called the increase the "Pfeiffer effect."

Kelahan told residents the Pfeiffer plant used 10.8 million gallons of water in 2009 and paid nearly $80,000.

"The numbers are the numbers. You can't squeeze the balloon and not have it pop out somewhere," Kelahan said. "The costs were there. There's no [other] pot of money. It all went to costs. It had a big affect on revenue."

The plant accounted for 25 percent of the water use and 25 percent of the sewer use billed in the village. The water rate has remained unchanged since the closing.

The actual costs for water are small, the mayor said, but the cost of operating the sewage treatment plant is considerable. Without Pfeiffer, the rest of the village has to make up the difference.

Kelahan said that last year's budget was his first as the village budget officer. He also noted that some accounting procedures needed to be changed, including using general fund money for water and sewage expenses.

Michael Moyer, of Shore Drive, suggested village officials look ahead and develop other plans, or consider merging the village with the town.

Kelahan said village residents would need to pay the sewage charge as part of a special district if the village dissolved.

He added that county economic development officials "are turning over rocks and shaking things" to find a new tenant for the Pfeiffer plant.

The mayor added words of caution.

"You all heard the news about Somerset tonight. The things you hope for don't always come out the way you hoped for," Kelahan said of Verizon Communications' decision not to build a data center in the nearby town.


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