Village Board votes to lower sewer tax rate on debt, fails to raise sewer usage rate for plant operation and maintenance

water flows into a tank at sewer plant
Village waste water treatment plant

The Board of Trustees voted Tuesday to lower the sewer debt tax paid by village property owners but failed by one vote to raise sewer usage charges to prevent an anticipated future deficit in the Operation & Maintenance budget for the sewer plant.

“It’s complicated,” said Trustee John Basile, while attempting to explain the difference in the two fees charged to village residents for the waste water treatment plant. This came at a public hearing on Sept. 17 in which no one from the public spoke.

The first fee, he said, is a tax to pay off long-term debt/loan that dates back to the early 1990s for money borrowed to make needed repairs to the treatment plant and the second charge a usage fee billed to residents twice a year to pay for daily operation and maintenance of the plant.

In the case of the debt tax, the village has found additional funding sources in recent years — some coming from new Stillwater town sewer users — and property assessments have risen, both of which have created a surplus in that account. Because of that surplus, Trustees voted unanimously to lower the sewer debt tax by about 25 percent effective Oct. 1, 2019.

The debt service tax will be cut from $1.20 per $1,000 of assessed value to 90 cents per $1,000 of assessed value for village users going forward. The average village property owner with a home assessed at $200,000 will now pay about $60 less per year in sewer tax.

Operation & Maintenance Account

But while there is a surplus in the sewer debt account, the opposite is true for the waste water treatment plant’s Operation & Maintenance budget, Basile explained. Costs continue to rise and repairs have been needed.

The village also, earlier this year, approved the purchase of a used truck to haul sewage waste from the plant to a disposal site, which came out of the O & M budget. While the truck will save money in the long run (hauling the waste themselves and no longer paying another company to do it) what was once a $90,000 surplus in the O & M account is projected to drop to about $46,000 by the end of the fiscal year.

“If a major repair comes up (at the treatment plant) will we have enough money in the budget to do it? I don’t know,” Basile said.

The operation and maintenance account, unlike the sewer debt account, is funded by village residents based not on tax assessments but on consumption or gallons used per year. The current rate is $4.50 per every 1,000 gallons used per household.

To put the O & M budget on more solid financial footing, the village proposed Tuesday raising the usage rate from $4.50 per 1,000 gallons to $5 per 1,000 gallons beginning Oct. 1 but that resolution failed by a vote of 3-2. The increase would have raised another $35,000 for the O & M budget and cost the average village user about $30 more per year.

Opposing the increase at this time were Mayor Judith Wood-Shaw and Trustees Judy Wood-Zeno and Dorothy DeMarco. Basile and Trustee Timothy Campbell support the increased user fee as “necessary.”

“We can wait until later but we are going to have to do it eventually,” Basile said. “I think it’s important we take action.”

“I understand we are going to have to raise that amount and make changes,” countered Wood-Zeno. “I’m not in disagreement with that. But village residents have used a lot of water (consumption) during the summer filling their pools and such and they need fair notice. It’s not fair to spring it on the October billings.”

“I think we can revisit this matter in April (during the next sewer usage billing),” Mayor Wood-Shaw said.

In other business Sept. 17, Trustees passed resolutions to:

  • Extend the Special Use Permit for Stillwater Energy Storage LLC to install and operate a lithium-power battery energy storage system at 982 Hudson Ave. The original permit was approved by the Village Board a year ago and set expire. Work has not yet started on the project.
  • Endorse a grant application to the Hudson River Valley Greenway Community Grant Program for a project entitled Stillwater Heritage/Culture Pride Project to be located within the Village of Stillwater.