By Lori Samuels
Changes to water rates for residents of Brewster Heights and Eagles Ridge Condominium were discussed at the Nov. 30 Southeast Town Board meeting, when Special Districts Administrator Rodney Brown clarified the specifics of a Nov. 6 letter to homeowners in which sample rate adjustments were presented. Some residents misunderstood the letter to be a bill; the letter raised other concerns, as well.
Brown indicated that a majority of residents will most likely not see any change to their water bills, or may possibly pay less once the new rates take effect in January. However, a small number of residents who are using a larger share of water may pay an increase.
The purpose of the presentation was to answer homeowner questions and address concerns around the change in rates for those with meters in their homes. All 244 homes in Brewster Heights are metered, while a majority of those within Eagles Ridge are without meters. The change to the billing structure is meant to equalize a situation in which, currently, a resident using more water may be paying the same as a resident who uses less, according to Brown.
He explained that work projects are scheduled to rectify issues, to “level the playing field” around how homeowners are charged, based on their usage.
“Currently, a lot of people are paying below the number that starts getting charged for the service,” he said. “There is a fixed cost connection fee that is the known expense, versus the usage that is the unknown, like electric and diesel. Other variables include the per-gallon rate as well as the cost of living.”
The town plans to go around to all residences to make sure all meters are working properly, and to make sure homeowner-installed meters are replaced by district meters so that usage is captured.
One resident of Eagles Ridge asked about communal spigots available to every eight units. “If it’s going through a meter, who’s paying for it?” she asked.
Brown said he will go to the site to check, and if there is a common spigot, identify how it is fed, and if there is a meter, who should be paying. If there isn’t a meter, he said one needs to be installed, as “there is no free water.”
As to the confusion about the old bill versus the new bill, Brown said the chart in the letter is purely a hypothetical example of the current rate versus the new rate, which will be based on actual usage.
Jim Gaynor of Eagles Ridge asked if the district can confirm how many homes are without meters.
According to Brown, out of 138 units, only 24 are metered, and 114 are non-metered. Another resident indicated that there are meters inside each unit, as well as outside.
Town Attorney Willis Stephens explained, “A few years back, the privately-managed water system failed, and Eagles Ridge water management became part of the Brewster Heights Water Department.”
According to Brown, currently, residents of Eagles Ridge without meters will continue to be charged the current flat rate, which doesn’t distinguish between heavy and light water consumption. “If Eagles Ridge wants meters, it will have to request them and it will be a cost to the condominium,” he said.
When asked how to confirm that all current meters in the district are working properly, Brown said the water department is checking each meter, with a list of 40 yet to be completed.
One homeowner asked about quarterly usage numbers in 2023 that were significantly higher than reported in 2022, to which Brown indicated this could be related to a water leak, if not inside the home, then in the ground.
Additionally, a bill may seem higher if the timing of readings represents a longer usage period, such as an additional two or three weeks, according to Brown.
Water quality issues were also raised during the meeting, with one homeowner reporting being concerned about continual problems with green and yellow water, film on silverware after using the dishwasher, and “paying over $465 for stuff that I can’t drink.”
“We have had a problem with dirty water,” said Councilman Eric Larca. “You’ll hear from me, I promise. The problems are being addressed. Others in Brewster Heights indicate they no longer have a similar problem, but we’re taking it very seriously. The Department of Environmental Protection and the Board of Health are overlooking everything we do, but it’s still advisable to have your water tested. I test my own water.”
“This is a work in progress,” added Supervisor Tony Hay. “Things are being done.”
Larca said there are ways to get the water cleaner. “I own my own home and I buy water,” he said. “I don’t trust the water coming out of the ground. This problem is all around the town.”
At the close of the meeting, Brown said the meter use per-gallon rate and the connection fee will be confirmed prior to a letter due to be sent to homeowners in January. The board indicated that before that, at the Dec. 21 meeting, those rates and the fee will be confirmed.
“We do have a plan in place,” said Brown. “We have a bunch of projects ahead, so be ready.”