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Citizens committee complains Cape Vincent board ignored water district report

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CAPE VINCENT — A report from a citizens committee with suggestions on how users in Water Districts 2 and 3 should be charged was ignored when the Town Council approved a new water rate structure in a public hearing Thursday, according to committee members.

Committee member Timothy L. White, who presented the report at the meeting, said he was surprised when the board neglected to review it before deciding on a water rate structure for the two districts. Councilman Paul F. Aubertine was the sole board member to oppose the decision.

Users from the two districts are charged by the Development Authority of the North Country for access to its 20-mile regional waterline, which runs from Cape Vincent to Brownville. The board approved a revised formula so that users in Water Districts 2 and 3 would be charged according to the amount of water they consume. Equivalent dwelling units, or EDUs, were assigned to each residence in the two districts.

Previously the town had divided the cost of its annual water allocation from the DANC equally between the two districts. But doing so resulted in some users being charged too much, while others were assessed less than their fair share.

“It’s disappointing that the report wasn’t really a part of the dialogue at the public hearing,” said Mr. White, who was among the six committee members who compiled the report. “We handed it to them, and they put it down on the table and then moved to vote on the issue. They really didn’t have time to open the pages.”

Mr. White said he had hoped the board would delay making a “knee-jerk” decision by reviewing the report beforehand. The report can be read online at http://wdt.me/93rgSF.

Formed by water district residents following the board’s April 17 meeting, the committee was told by Supervisor Urban C. Hirschey to submit its recommendations for water charges in Districts 2 and 3 at Thursday’s public hearing. At that meeting, Mr. Hirschey said that if the committee’s recommendations merit attention, the board could delay deciding on water rates.

The board approved the revised water rate structure Thursday despite the committee’s report. The rate structure was approved with the condition that it will be reviewed again in three months and perhaps revised.

“It was not a knee-jerk reaction,” Mr. Hirschey said Monday. “We had a previous meeting in which we expounded the rationale for using EDUs to properly allocate costs, and we’re standing by that. If you read [the committee’s] booklet, it’s mostly about history and there’s nothing in there that would change our mind about our allocation.”

The committee’s report critiques the way the town split up costs between users in Districts 2 and 3. It suggests the town should seek to reduce operation and maintenance charges assessed by DANC for users in Water District 2. Operation charges should be eliminated for the roughly 40 users in Water District 3, the report says, because they have been receiving water from the town — not DANC — since 2008. Those users are still charged by DANC, however, because they still have access to its regional waterline as a backup water supply.

Water District 2 has only three active users. But they have established at least 12 connections to outside users that are not billed by the town, according to a 2012 report by Fourth Coast Inc., Clayton. Users with active connections include Darrel J. Aubertine, Paul’s father, who works for the state comptroller as special assistant for external affairs; Donald J. Mason, a former town councilman who lives at 4670 Favret Road, and Wesley A. Bourcy, who operates a small dairy farm at 4224 Branche Road.

“In this case, the fixed cost represents 50 percent of the bill,” Paul Aubertine said. “But if you look across the board at any utility company, most of the cost should be based on variable costs and usage. Fixed costs should be 25 percent maximum, and that’s my biggest issue with Water District 2.”

“This whole battling over the rate structure with DANC, and these outrageous water costs, has been going on for two years,” Mr. Aubertine added. “DANC sends out the bill, and the Water District 2 customer feels it’s not fair and goes to the town board for an ally. But they feel they’re not getting one, because the town is working with DANC to get this done.”

The citizens committee made these recommendations to the board:

n Water District 2 customers should be billed on the proposed usage rate, but the fixed fee component is unrealistic and needs to be reevaluated.

n Water District 3 customers should not have to pay a monthly DANC charge. They should be compensated for DANC’s back charges in the past six years because they received water from the town.

n The town should form a citizen water advisory board to oversee water operations for Cape Vincent residents. The committee would work with the village and town water departments in the areas of operation, maintenance, capital planning and more.

n The town should allow the water advisory board to investigate current and past managerial and financial action on capital projects, and operation and maintenance policies.

n Towns should establish a user committee in which municipalities supplied by DANC meet periodically, independent of DANC, to discuss service, budget and operating issues.

“We got the report at the meeting, and Tim White gave a brief synopsis of some of the things they found,” Paul Aubertine said. “And as soon as he was done, John Byrne made a motion to pass the rate structure without even taking into consideration recommendations of the committee. It was just a real slap in the face for those guys, who were only given two weeks to help out.”

Mr. Aubertine said he is concerned about the fixed costs assessed by DANC for operation and maintenance that will impact users in Water District 2. Agreeing with the committee’s report, he hopes the town board will revise Water District 2’s rate structure and eliminate charges for District 3 users.

Mr. Aubertine called for a more formal citizens water advisory board to establish a better rate structure for District 2 and 3 users and to investigate other water issues.

“I’m going to push like hell to make sure that happens, because there are issues in Cape Vincent that are much larger than Districts 2 and 3,” he said. “And just to have a standing committee that meets monthly or quarterly to provide oversight would help, especially with the institutional knowledge that we have in the town of Cape Vincent. That costs nothing to the town, and it would certainly help the districts work better.”

Other citizens committee members include Terry L. Aubertine (District 2), Frank J. Giaquinto (District 2), Donald J. Mason (District 2), Marty T. Mason (District 3) and Mickey W. Orvis (District 3).

Cape Vincent Citizens Committee Report
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