The Erie County Water Authority board agreed Tuesday to pick up water services for two communities ready to give up operating independent water systems.
The board gave its final approval to a consolidation agreement that will result in the Water Authority taking over the Village of Williamsville’s entire water system over the next 12 to 18 months.
The board also approved a 10-year lease-management agreement with the Town of Evans, which is scheduled to begin in April.
As part of the agreement, more than $3 million will be spent on upgrades to make Williamsville’s aging water system compatible with the Water Authority’s system standards. The improvements include installing higher capacity water mains, replacing all existing water meters with newer ones that have remote reading technology, replacing outdated fire hydrants, and completing new interconnections between the two systems to improve fire service water flow.
Village leaders have explored the possibility of giving up their water system for decades, but village water rate hikes over the past few years have given local leaders additional incentive to make progress on the water consolidation effort.
“This is a good thing for the village,” said Water Authority Chairman Fran Warthling. “We’re taking all their customers over, and we’re not adding any staff because we already have employees on our end. It’s a good thing for everybody.”
The village had recently raised the water rate from $4.87 per 1,000 gallons used to $5.37. The latest village rate increase followed rate hikes in 2009 and 2010 before more aggressive steps were taken to control water leaks. Once the takeover is complete, village residents will pay the authority rate of $2.96 plus a village surcharge for the upgrade expenses.
In Evans, the takeover by the Water Authority has been a long time coming.
“It’s like the weight of the world has been taken off our shoulders,” Evans Supervisor Keith Dash said Tuesday. “It’s a victory not for me personally, but the town. I think we’re going to become more modernized and efficient.”
Evans started a multimillion-dollar water project several years ago to update its system with the intent of turning operations over to the authority. But the town mismanaged the project, which caused delays and recently forced officials to borrow an additional $3 million to finish the work.
In fact, the water project – along with water rates that haven’t been high enough to cover rising expenses – has dug the town into a financial hole that Dash has been trying to get out of since taking office more than a year ago.
Under the agreement, the authority is responsible for supplying and delivering treated water, as well as customer service, billing, meter reading and maintenance of the system, officials said Tuesday.
The town is responsible for all capital improvements.
Evans customers – who had been paying $5.55 per 1,000 gallons – now will be charged $5.85 per 1,000 gallons. That includes the Water Authority’s rate of $2.96 per $1,000 gallons used, as well as a surcharge of $2.89 per 1,000 for the infrastructure upgrades, which will be reimbursed to the town, authority officials said.
“That surcharge will take care of the existing debt of everything that’s been done, as well as the last phase of the project,” Dash said.