The Village of Rockville Centre has proposed a water rate hike for residents, which was discussed at a public hearing on Dec. 2. Money collected from the proposed 15 percent water rate increase would fund water infrastructure and reliability projects in the village. It would be the first water rate hike in two years and will cost $7.50 per month for the average household.
During the Village Board of Trustees’ monthly meeting, village officials opened a public hearing and explained the reasoning for the proposed rate increase. The water fund has an annual project cash deficit of $500,000 to $700,000, according to Comptroller Dennis Morgan.
“Many improvements have been made to the water infrastructure and delivery system during the last several years,” Morgan said. “The improvements have given rise to changes in the new fiscal 2020 forecasted results in the water fund.”
The upgrades Morgan referred to include water main replacements, water tower refurbishments and construction of a new iron removal plant. Because of various water projects over the past few years, and some other factors, incoming cash “is not sufficient to pay all the expenses and related principle and interest payments for the debt service in the water fund,” Morgan noted.
“If that’s not addressed, the water fund will not have adequate funds to meet its ongoing obligations,” he said.
First, the village recently dropped a lease with cellular companies that previously put $400,000 per year into the water fund. In addition, bond interest and principal payments have increased about $200,000 a year, Morgan said. Finally, the overall water billing levels have decreased since 2015. All of these factors would leave the water fund in a deficit; thus, the village has proposed the 15 percent rate hike.
“The average water rate paid by the village resident is about half or a little bit above that than those paid by New York American Water customers,” Morgan noted. “In light of all the things I’ve just described, we feel a rate increase is warranted.”
Kevin Reilly, superintendent of the Water Department, explained that the water infrastructure is aging and undersized to meet residents’ needs. Mayor Francis X. Murray agreed, noting that the village has been dedicated to replacing 4-inch water mains with 8- and 12-inch mains.
When it was time for public comment, resident Jeff Greenfield approached the podium and praised the village for its efforts. “Nobody likes to pay more,” he said, “but in this case, I’m here to applaud the mayor and board for investing in our aging water system so it doesn’t fall into a state of disrepair like other American cities’ I don’t look at is as a rate increase, but an investment in the water quality in our village.”
There were no objections from the public. However, the board voted unanimously to keep the public hearing open until the next board meeting on Jan. 6 at 7 p.m. at Village Hall, where public comment will be heard again.
“The health and safety of our residents is the highest priority for my administration,” said Murray. “Throughout my tenure, we have made great strides to provide residents with safe reliable service and though we are proud of the work we have done, we continue to be vigilant to ensure that we build upon our progress for future generations.”
The Rockville Centre Water Department provides water from 10 wells located throughout the village. The water is stored in four elevated tanks with a combined capacity of four million gallons and is distributed through more than 70 miles of water main. In coordination with the Village Road Program, more than 20 miles of undersized water mains were replaced in the last eight years.