Sewage rate increase shocks local leaders

By Kelly McCarthy

May 24, 2013 Updated May 24, 2013 at 6:42 PM EDT

Binghamton, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Residents should prepare to see a larger bill for their sewage rates, but exactly when that would happen -- and by how much -- remains in question.

Local town and municipal leaders are dealing with what they're calling an unexpected multimillion dollar increase to their sewage bills.

Town and municipal leaders called a meeting Friday after seeing their sewage rates increase by 33 percent on bills for the first quarter of 2013.

"It went up significantly," said town of Kirkwood Supervisor Gordon Kniffen. "It went up like $70,000."

Kniffen wasn't the only town supervisor to be surprised.

"Realizing that it was only the first quarter billing," said town of Binghamton Supervisor Tim Whitesell. "And the second quarter was only a couple of weeks away. Realizing for us in the town of Binghamton, we're going to be close to $45,000 to 48,000 short."

Town leaders want to know why they are each being asked to pay nearly $5 million more than anticipated.

"We are in the circumstance we're in primarily because of the flood in 2011," said Joint Sewage Board member Edward Crumb. "The major component of the increase is flood capital in the 2013 budget of approximately $4.9 million."

The money must be collected this year so the embattled Joint Sewage Treatment Plant will quality for federal relief.

"We have to actually spend the money in order to be able to apply for reimbursement through FEMA and the state emergency management office," Crumb said.

The $5 million increase is not related to the May 2011 collapse of a wall at the wastewater plant in Vestal, which sent an estimated 50,000 gallons of partially treated sewage into the Susquehanna River.

Then, months later, the plant took on several feet of water, incurring further damage.

Town leaders blamed much of their anger Friday on a lack of communication.

"Simple phone calls. You can't even leave a message because their mailbox is full," Kniffen said. "We send emails and we repeat it, repeat it, repeat it, and sometimes, we just give up."

Plant leaders say the information was included in budgets given to each municipality in August.

"We're really hoping for a lot better communication," Whitesell said. "Obviously receiving these bills without any notification was just a shock to all of us."

Supervisors say looking for ways to pay 33 percent more will be a challenge, if it's paid at all.

"I brought up the question, what happens if we default on the full payment," Whitesell said. "And that's something the board is going to have to take into consideration on every municipality."

Municipalities will most likely pass the rate increases onto residents. That will require discussion in public meetings. In some cases, those meetings could take place in the coming weeks.