Water rates will remain unchanged for the vast majority of Erie County Water Authority customers under a budget approved Thursday.
But, more than 3,000 large commercial water users will pay higher infrastructure charges that will enable the authority to raise an additional $4 million for capital projects.
A water user like a large car wash could see fees increase from $78.60 a year to more than $500 a year, said Water Authority Chairman Earl Jann.
But most residential water customers would see no change in their water fees or rates for the next three years, he said.
"What we were looking for was a reasonable way in which we could be as fair as possible to our customers, and yet at the same time, bring the authority’s infrastructure up to proper standard," Jann said.
For the last five years, all water authority customers were paying the same, flat infrastructure fee on their bills to cover new construction costs associated with the water treatment plant, water towers and other major construction.
That fee has risen more than 500 percent, affecting all customers, who currently pay $78.60 a year.
The Water Authority is now moving toward a more proportional fee structure that will impose higher fees on businesses that use more water.
The impact would mean that 97 percent of ECWA customers would see no change in their water rate next year. The board is also committed to keeping infrastructure fees for most residential water users unchanged for the next three years, Jann said.
The Water Authority Board approved a combined operating and capital budget for 2017 of $74.2 million.
That overall budget figure remains flat compared with this year's budget, but operating expenses fell because of refinancing deals and other efficiencies, Jann said. Money for water line repairs, which come out of the operating budget, are unaffected, he added.
The capital budget, however, is growing to keep pace with necessary, construction-related improvements to the aging water system, he said.
While larger commercial users with water meter pipes that exceed 1-inch in diameter will be paying anywhere from $23 more per year to more than $2,200 a year for municipal bulk water buyers, some of that cost may be offset by lower commercial water rates.
While most residential customers pay a water rate of $3.17 per 1,000 gallons, commercial water users will now pay a flat rate of $2.84 per 1,000 gallons. The water authority's 17 municipal bulk water buyers would pay an even lower rate of $2.48.
These rates reflect a different pricing model compared with the current system in which water rates gradually decline as more water was used by businesses and municipalities.