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Evans residents are concerned about Erie County Water Authority bills

EVANS — Town of Evans residents flooded to a recent town board meeting, to voice their displeasure regarding their first water bill from the Erie County Water Authority.

Before the residents addressed the board, Supervisor Keith Dash provided insight and background about the water project and the reason the town decided to switch over to Erie County Water Authority.

“We have, rightfully so, received countless concerns and questions regarding the pay increase in the water rates, the surcharge, the infrastructure charge and why the minimum gallons of water used was raised from 6,000 it was with the town of Evans to 9,000 it is with the ECWA,” Dash said. “I’m addressing anywhere upwards of 50 comments and concerns a day and I welcome that.”

The supervisor said that, by 2000, the board learned that the Evans Water Department was operating at a deficit of nearly $1 million. “Previous town boards neglected, for nearly 20 years, to raise the water rates in order to coincide with the increasing cost of properly operating a water department,” he said. “They just didn’t do it. It’s a great gig; you don’t raise the rates [and] you get re-elected. Some people served long terms, as a result. And the result is a water system that was very antiquated; that was costing us more in maintenance and repairs.”

In 2005, the board decided to investigate a lease management agreement with the Erie County Water Authority. “They would take over the town’s water system and billing,” Dash said. “But, in order to do so, the town would have to make significant improvements to our water system. Fast-forward to 2008 and a new town board took over and, for some reason, the idea of the water project hit the back burner.”

The current town board took office last year and Dash said that “the New York state comptroller came knocking on our door for an audit. It was a dire, dire emergency and a terrible situation. There was no end in sight to this project that had been started and never finished; now, the town was on the hook for over $12 million.”

Dash said that the board could have raised the water rate from $5.55 to $7.15 or raised the tax rate across the board, but that “wouldn’t have been fair to everyone. We couldn’t go any further, without having a revenue stream to pay off that long-term bond, which was always the factor driving the bus.”

Dash said that the ECWA bill includes a few things he and other board members do not agree with. The surcharge that appears on that bill is the amount Evans charges its residents, minus the monetary amount the town utilizes to purchase water. He added that the $9 infrastructure charge is “like an insurance policy that we all pay” and the new minimum of 9,000 gallons is a figure set forth by the ECWA.

While Dash said that he did not want to point fingers, resident Bob Catalano said that the town should be placing blame.

“I want somebody to point the finger at who mismanaged this,” Catalano said. “When you say you’re not going to point fingers, that’s exactly what we all want. We all know want to know who did this to us. Why shouldn’t we know? We should know.”

Dash responded that the state comptroller’s office does not pursue legal action and will not, in this case.

Attendee Don Mogavero asked if the surcharge will go away, once the bond is repaid. “It’s designed to pay the bond and that’s exactly how it’s written,” Dash said. “Once the bond is paid for, the water rates will go down. I’m not going to see it, because I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime. And that’s the thing that bothers me the most. Because of this mismanagement, we’ve placed this burden on future generations. It’s just wrong.”

Board Member Paul Cooper said that, in order to understand why the town is in the predicament it is in, residents must first look into the past.

“The problem really started about 60 years ago,” Cooper said. “I think we have to look back at our history and see that we should have been maintaining these pipes and these lines, all along. We got to a point where we have a town-wide infrastructure that [is] ancient and all had to be corrected at once.

“This is something we need to point out to future generations and to future boards, so that they can correct the problems as they come and not put everything off until tomorrow, so that you reach where we are in this catastrophic situation,” he concluded.

Attendee Henry Chonaniec said that his double-family home uses 7,000 gallons of water, 11,000 below the minimum from the ECWA. “I think something is wrong here,” Chonaniec said. “This is way beyond conservation. This is just wasteful.”

“We’re moving in the direction the right way, but that doesn’t however pay the bill,” Dash said. “I understand this is not popular, but this was bad management and we are going to get through this and make sure that it does not happen in this town again.”

“This is awful,” Chonaniec said. “This is just awful. The residents of this town deserve much better.”

Dash said that he will present residents’ comments, questions and concerns to the ECWA. After the meeting, Dash said that concerned citizens can still voice their opinions, by calling his office.

He added that town residents, whose water bill minimum gallon usage reads 12,000 or higher and not 9,000, should call his office at 549-5787 and provide a name and number, so the matter can be corrected.

The next Evans Town Board meeting will be held on Aug. 21.
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