The Newburgh City Council held a public hearing to discuss an ordinance to raise water rates by 5 percent at last Thursday’s City Council meeting. The council voted to approve the ordinance.
According to Comptroller Todd Venning, when the budget was balanced the city was short $9 hundred thousand. “We also received our audited financial statements from 2018,” said Venning. “The water fund was very close to hitting a possible deficit. In looking to close that gap, we decided to do a balance of a water rate increase, and taking from the appropriated fund balance. A fund balance is essentially a savings account in the water funds.”
The Council is seeking to do a 5 percent increase with the remainder coming out of the fund balance. According to Venning, this will avoid a 24 percent increase. “If we catch these things early,” said Venning. “We don’t have to have dramatic increases.”
“Of course, I don’t want the increase in rates,” said Julia Lindall during the hearing, “Because it’s already with the sanitation rates. With all these increases and assessed values; it’s just adding up overbearingly, overwhelmingly.”
John Mousseau’s daughter owns a Habitat for Humanity house. Mousseau is strongly against the water rate increase.
“She can’t afford another tax hike,” said Mousseau during the public hearing. “And a water rate hike is a tax hike.” Mousseau believes that there isn’t enough of an emphasis on increasing revenue with new businesses.
Lindall continued to question if the decision was logical, especially after the city changed water sources. Recently the city changed water sources from the Catskill Aqueduct to Browns Pond.
“It stinks, we can’t drink it. I have to buy bottled water,” said Lindall. “I’m lucky enough where I can do that.” Lindall wondered if the water is being consistently tested. “It isn’t really water. It just has a chemical concoction.” She believes the water smells heavily of chlorine and another sort of metal.
Wayne Vrandenburgh, water department superintendent, explained that before every water source switch there is a full sweep done of possible contaminants. According to Vrandenburgh, Browns Pond was found to be in good health. The Orange County Department of Health approved the switch.
“The water is tested by my staff every single day,” said Vrandenburgh. “As the temperature of the water gets colder, the chlorine stays in the water a lot longer than during the summer. But it is within all drinking water standards.”
“The water fund, just like our sanitation and our sewer funds are our enterprise funds,” said Mayor Torrance Harvey. “Which means they function on their own and they have to pay for themselves; which means the water rate proposed increase at 10 percent was recommended by this council and the mayor not to go up at 10 percent, but 5 percent. Because our constituents have made a special request after the sanitation experience, that the increases when they need to be increased go up in special increments. So, we’ve requested that we raise it 5 percent instead of 10 percent.”