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Albany Water Board Vote Next Month Likely To Mean Rate Hike For Residents

Water and sewer rates are poised to increase in January for Albany customers. 

Credit Albany Water Dept.
Click on image to ENLARGE.

The Albany Water Board held a public hearing November 21st on a proposed 2.5 percent rate increase. Water Department Commissioner Joe Coffey says much of the city’s water and sewer infrastructure is over 100 years old, necessitating repairs and upgrades to guarantee the delivery of clean water and removal of waste and storm water.   "We're investing in the system as we're talking, you know with a $100 million five-year capital plan. We know we're not going to pay for that out of all of our revenue, we have to borrow money for that. So to cover our debt service we want to make sure we've got significant or sufficient capital and reserves to make sure that we can maintain a margin to do that."

Coffey notes the department has received some $30 million in grants. He says the five-year capital plan is tied in with the agency's asset management plan.   "So we're looking at, you know, what's the risk of a failure of some infrastructure? What is the end of profitability. So we're trying to also split it between water and the sewer part. Part of the capital plan, Dave, is going to be committed to the long term control plan, the consent order where we know we've got some investments that we need to make and in time, you know, like, we talked about the Beaver Creek clean River Project, that's a big one. But a lot of our projects that we have in a capital plan are for the sewer lining, we're trying to do some distribution system reinforcement, you know, with trying to maintain pressures. We've also made some investments standard or water treatment plan. And that was something that we thought, as we said it was built in 1930 and had improvements in 1991."

Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Water Department Commissioner Joe Coffey checks facts as he answers a question raised by Albany resident Robert Lewis during the November 21 Water Board meeting.

Albany resident Robert Lewis raised concerns about water quality, telling the board that he and many of his neighbors buy bottled water for drinking. He wanted to know more about improvements to the city supply.    "I don't see nobody doing anything with the water. I'm about 79 years old. I know what I see and I see what I know. I deal with knowledge and not myths. And I know these games are being played all around here. We wanna clean those games up so the people can experience something positive in their lives also."

Coffey says the pristine location of Albany's main water source, the Alcove Reservoir, on the Hannacroix Creek in the Town of Coeymans, is one factor that keeps city water quality high. He adds the rate increase will help fund future upgrades that will benefit residents, including ones that will help clean the Hudson River.  "The average water bill is maybe $450. That's water and sewer combined, $450 a year. So the 2.5 percent rate increase, you know, that's going to go up, the average bill goes up $11. And a lot of folks use just the minimum, and that bill is maybe half of that. Their bill goes up $6, $6 a year. So when you do the math, and you always talk, we always talk about bottled water, I said, people you're buying this bottled water, you've paid $3, $4 for a case of water, I can sell you 1000 gallons of water for $3.79. So just that when you think about it in that context, it's a pretty economical investment for people to pay their water bill. And on the other hand, we've looked at you know, I've got a cell phone, they got my cable TV, and I probably spend $400 a month on cable TV and cell phones for my family. So I think in that context, we think it's a bargain.

The board is expected to vote on the increase at its December 20th meeting.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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