One thing has become clear in the Village of Whitehall’s 2009-10 budget process – water has become its own monster.
“The water fund is in big trouble,” said village clerk Joan Douglas at the March 23 village budget meeting.
Douglas pointed to several factors in the water budget that were cause for alarm, including a difference in the expected and actual revenues for the system.
“If you remember a year ago when we did this, we were basing our projected revenue on the new water meters and what they would pick up,” said Douglas. “What we actually received was not what we projected. We are off about $45,000.”
Douglas said some of the difference had been made up by those who still have not had their water meters changed to the new, digital-read version.
“There are still about a couple dozen or so who still pay the $300 per quarter fine to not have their meters changed over,” said Douglas. “It’s amazing because they just keep paying it with no complaint. They must not want someone coming into their home.”
“They’re paying it no problem,” said trustee Kenneth Bartholomew. “If that were me, I would be here first thing in the morning banging down the doors until I got answers.”
Douglas said that in order to further offset funding for the water system, the village should look at all of their options, including one that has been a topic of controversy in the past.
“I really think that you need to re-address the issue of timber cutting up at Pine Lake,” said Douglas. “The only other real option is to increase the water rates horrifically.”
“If you go over the numbers that we were given last week by Joan that show that the residents are only paying a small percentage of what the water rate could be, I am concerned,” said trustee Walt Sandford. “I think that this is a revenue that could offset our trouble with revenue. Half the people would not be happy, but this is an option to be had.”
“You have to understand that you will hear from a lot of people that think this is a bad idea,” said Bartholomew. “But it may end up that we have to do what we have to do.”
Trustee Richard Colomb said that he was against the idea of timber harvesting at the water shed site.
“The people that go up there to harvest the trees are only going to be in it for themselves,” said Colomb. “They are there for the money and if they see a good tree, they will cut it.”
“That is our water shed property up there and we treasure that,” said Sandford. “But if this can help, I would be very open to a presentation and looking to make sure there’s regulation and some supervision. There has got to be someone in the industry to aid with that.”
Bartholomew said that he would like to see a comparison on how much timber cutting would save taxpayers from an increase to their water rates.
“We need to know how much the general rate would go up and how much we can get from logging and an increased rate,” he said.
Sandford agreed, and said that he wanted all sides and all information to be heard before any decision was made.
“The best thing about a debate is that you are not only hearing what you want,” he said. “You are also hearing the things that you do not know about.”
Green filtration plant?
The board also discussed ways to cut costs at the new water filtration plant, especially in the area of power.
“You look at the expenditures, especially between the fuel, phone, alarm, electric and chemicals,” said Douglas. “It has increased …”
“… Alarmingly,” added Bartholomew. “Just go and look at what we had with the old building and then look at the new one.”
“I think that we really need to look at an alternative form of energy up there,” said Mayor Patricia Norton. “Even if we just use something like solar power to heat the water tank that would save us a lot right there.”
The discussion ended, with no further motions were made on the topic.