Dominick Calsolaro

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Albany water rate is going up again

6 percent increase for city system is the fifth one in seven years

Published on 2/16/2008 by the Times Union written by TREVOR JONES, Special to the Times Union

ALBANY -- The Albany Water Board has approved a rate hike for the fifth time in seven years.

Starting March 15, rates for water and sewage treatment will increase 6 percent, or about $30 a year, for most residents, and 20 percent for some larger commercial users. The board voted unanimously Tuesday to raise the rates.

Robert Cross, the board's executive director, tied the new rates to federal and state mandates and higher maintenance costs for the 75-year-old water system. But city residents pay less for water and sewage treatment than customers of other systems, Cross said.

The average homeowner in Albany will pay $273 annually, compared to $308 in Troy and $379 in Clifton Park, Cross said.

He said the water board has cut $1 million in expenses from its 2008 budget to offset operational costs.

But more increases loom. Because of a restructuring several years ago, the system's debt payment will rise from $3 million to $5 million annually in 2009. Also, the state Department of Environmental Conservation has required a study by Albany and other communities on sewage overflow into the Hudson River. The board set aside $1 million over the next three years for the study.

City Council member Dominick Calsolaro cautioned that while rate increases may help meet the water board's immediate financial needs, costs for needed infrastructure work are not being addressed.

"I don't see any long-range plan," he said.

While Cross defended the board's operational budget, he agreed there are not enough funds for future improvements. "Eventually something has to be done. We can't just keep raising rates," he said.

City Comptroller Thomas Nitido agrees that money for long-term solutions must come from sources other than rates. While improvements have been made, he said, a combination of more aggressive management and more effective use of revenue management must be implemented.

Nitido said he would like to see greater sales of the city's water surplus to other municipalities. Albany currently sells water to Guilderland and Bethlehem.