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The Erie County Water Authority approved a $65.9 million budget for 2014 on Thursday that increases the water rate for its users by 4 cents for each 1,000 gallons and adds a $3 per quarter charge for infrastructure investment.

The current water rate of $2.96 per 1,000 gallons had not been raised over the last three years, while increases over the past six years have averaged less than one percent, according to Water Authority officials. The 2014 budget represents a 5.6 percent increase over the $62.49 million budget for 2013.

“This is a fiscally responsible budget that contains spending, maintains employee levels and provides a continual revenue source for the most significant infrastructure investment program in ECWA history,” said Water Authority Chairman Francis G. Warthling, in a news release Thursday.

Included in the 2014 budget is $15.5 million in capital spending on system-wide infrastructure upgrades to the water authority’s production facilities, as well as its distribution system and system maintenance.

Over the past eight years, Warthling said, the Water Authority has spend more than $169 million in infrastructure upgrades, which have allowed the authority to not only improve system efficiencies, but maintain the second lowest water rates in Western New York.

The capital budget includes $5.3 million for upgrades at the Sturgeon Point water treatment plant in Derby and the Van De Water treatment facility in the City of Tonawanda; $3.1 million for new water mains; and $225,000 for computer system upgrades.

The newly adopted budget maintains the Water Authority’s current workforce level, decreasing it by one to 246 employees from 247. Meanwhile, the authority’s customer base expanded by 35 percent this year following consolidations with the towns of Hamburg, Evans and Alden and the Village of Blasdell, all of which are now completely out of the water business. The Water Authority currently has 165,937 customer accounts.

Water Authority officials said challenges in the budget include a 197 percent increase in the authority’s contribution to the state employee pension fund since 2009 and decreased returns on investments resulting from historically low interest rates.

email: hmcneil@buffnews.com