Tupper Lake water, sewer rates spike
Rates rise as village begins paying off project debts
TUPPER LAKE — Village and town residents will be paying $20.80 more in water and sewer rates per month starting in June.
The village board on Wednesday approved a $10.80 increase per month for water rates and a $10 increase per month for sewer rates — a 48% hike for the village and 37% for the town — as the municipality begins paying off its debts.
Mayor Paul Maroun said the village has done major projects for water and sewer infrastructure in the past few years. The village has been financing these short-term. Now, he said, they’re moving into the “bond phase.”
Essentially, the village is now paying off debt for bonds it took out to fund these projects, and it needs to pay out significant chunks of money until that debt is gone.
Village Clerk Mary Casagrain said the village will be paying $237,580 annually for water debt over 30 years and $207,539 over 30 years annually for sewer debt.
The village is paying off $7.3 million for water projects that cost $10 million. It got around $3 million in grants for this work. The village is paying off $7.8 million for sewer projects. Casagrain said the village is seeking to fund a $500,000 upgrade to a sewage treatment station, which may bring the total to $8.2 million.
Maroun said rates are also rising because costs of operation — salaries, material and equipment — are rising with inflation.
The board held a public hearing on the rate rise before the vote. No members of the public spoke at the hearing.
Current and new rates
The village does not do metered water rates. It charges a flat rate.
The current village rates are $21.20 per month for water and $22 per month for sewer, a total of $43.20 per month.
With these new price hikes, village ratepayers will pay $32 per month for water and $32 per month for sewer, a total of $64 per month.
The current town rates are $28.40 per month for water and $27.20 per month for sewer, a total of $55.60 per month.
With these new price hikes, town ratepayers will pay $39.20 per month for water and $37.20 per month for sewer, a total of $76.40 per month.
The new rates go into effect in June.
Village trustees were solemn as they sounded off their “yeas” approving the rate increases.
“These are some of the bad parts of being in government,” Maroun said.
“I know my phone’s going to blow up because people are going to say, ‘You’re raising my water and sewer rates and you still can’t drink our water,'” LaScala said.
He said the poor water quality is the state’s fault, but that the village is caught in the middle.
“At the end of the day, we’re still cheaper than most municipalities,” LaScala said.
“We’ve held the line for a long time,” village Water and Sewer Department Superintendent Mark Robillard said.
Several members of the board own rental properties. They were dreading telling their tenants that their rent would be rising because of a rising water and sewer rate that they approved.
“Looks like rents are going up in Tupper Lake,” Trustee Jason McClain said.
LaScala said the village is not done spending yet. There’s more work to be done to get water quality to standard.
“This is not the last rate hike you’re going to see,” LaScala said.
He said all rates go up, like cable and insurance.
McClain pointed out that people can find lower rates with those services, but with water and sewer, they have no other options.
Trustee Leon Leblanc said he was “embarrassed” to raise rates while water quality is still substandard.
LaScala said he was not embarrassed to work to provide clean drinking water while the state makes it hard to do so.
“We have to curtail our spending,” Leblanc said. “We’ve got debt right here to scare you.”
He said the village can’t afford to hire anybody in the water and sewer department because it sends rates up.
Several years ago, the state determined the water the village was drawing from Big Tupper Lake and Little Simond Pond was unsafe because the chemicals used to treat the water interacted with organic material producing by-products linked to harmful side effects after prolonged exposure.
The state Department of Health ordered the village improve its water quality.
Robillard said at the time, they could only get grants for well water projects. The state was trying to move away from ground water sourcing, like the village had in the past.
He said it would have cost $9 million to upgrade the filtration plant — double the cost of the well project at the time. Robillard said the village saw $3 million of “free money” from the state and was promised clean water.
Turns out, it didn’t work that way. There is iron present in the wells, according to village tests, which stains the water brown. And the wells do not produce enough water for the whole town, Robillard has said.
The well project costs ballooned. Board members said the state has not helped pay for the growing project it mandated.
“They spend hundreds of millions of dollars in Lake Placid and ORDA while the poor people of Tupper Lake scrounge to get clean drinking water,” LaScala said.
Then, the state mandated that the village install water meters. Board members said the state told them they didn’t need to do meters, and found out late in the process that the state mandated the meters to identify water leaks or areas of high usage.
This added $1.5 million to the project costs, part of the $7.3 million the village is now paying off.
These projects were done with 0% interest loans, which was good for the village because it doesn’t accrue more debt while it pays it off, Casagrain said.
Board members said they had no choice. They have to obey the state.
In hindsight, some board members think they should have just drawn from Big Tupper Lake and built a new microfiltration plant.
The sewer project was for a treatment plant update. Robillard said the plant was built in 1958, upgraded in 1991 and now, three decades later, it was due for an upgrade.