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You are here: Home Arts & Entertainment Library Capital Campaign Surpasses Commitment; Water Rate Discussion Continues
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Library Capital Campaign Surpasses Commitment; Water Rate Discussion Continues

spl reading galleryAt Tuesday’s Scarsdale Village Board of Trustees meeting, Beth Bermel, Director of the Scarsdale Public Library, and Dara Gruenberg, co-chair of the Scarsdale Public Library Capital Campaign, announced that the campaign had met their ambitious fundraising goal to finance the renovation of Scarsdale Library and shared updates about the library’s interim loft space. Bermel began by stating, “We are so fortunate to have a new, clean, bright space to call home for a short time. To quote Shakespeare, ‘Though she be but little, she is fierce.’ While we don’t have a lot of space, we plan to serve the community as best we can.” She also said that construction bids have been received and are being reviewed… and expressed thanks to the community and government administration for their help in the process.

Gruenberg then followed with an important announcement. “When the Village Board passed the resolution to move forward with this renovation in December 2016, it was contingent upon the Library Capital Campaign Committee to raise $7.5 million. Only 16 months later, I am thrilled and proud to inform you that we have met our obligation to the Village.” She went on, “However, that is not all. We have surpassed it. To date, we have raised over $7.8 million.”

Gruenberg also reminded residents that the matching challenge is ongoing, and asked the public to donate to the effort. “We know some people have been waiting to see if the project is really happening before they contribute - well, the project is happening… As we embark on construction, we all know that issues can arise; there will undoubtedly be unforeseen needs... Your ongoing giving will fund technology, investments in the makerspace, and accelerate delayed equipment purchases… Now is a great time to contribute because you will double your impact.”

She concluded her remarks by thanking past and present village and library board members for their support for the project, and acknowledged the work of Library Director Bermel and capital campaign committee members. “I believe, years from now, future generations of Scarsdalians will look back and see this time in our village’s history as a shining example of the incredible things we can accomplish as a community when we work together for the common good.”

Water Rate Discussion Continues
As spring finally has arrived in Scarsdale, many homeowners are thinking of turning on their lawn sprinkler systems, power washing their decks and patios, and/or replenishing their pool water. Fittingly, in his opening remarks, Mayor Dan Hochvert referenced recent criticisms with regard to the Village’s proposed water rate increases and provided some background about “water in Scarsdale.”

New York City controls much of Scarsdale’s water operations through setting the base rate of waterleaky faucet usage, and had determined a while back that 3.5 percent the basic rate would help to achieve general water conservation goals. Hochvert pointed out that the basic rate in NYC is different from Scarsdale, due to the absence of lawns, swimming pools and other factors that drive usage here. He further explained that the rate of multiplication that NYC has been charging has been dropping, but ongoing litigation may cause an increase in water rates. Previous Scarsdale boards haven’t reduced the Scarsdale rates, pending outcome of this case, to maintain consistency in fees for residents. “We held off, until this year, to meet the rate that NYC expects.”

“However,” Hochvert explained, “the cost of water is somewhere plus or minus 35 percent of the total cost of running the water department. Over the last 10 years, there has not been a noticeable change in usage, based on the 3.5 (excess usage rate) or… the proposed three. It seems very unlikely that (charging excess usage rates) is the best way to conserve.” He then added, “If residents who pay three times the base rate were to reduce their usage by half, the base rate would need to double, because they are subsidizing those who use less water… almost two-thirds of the cost of running the water department is not related to the water... How can three times as much be a discount?”

Scarsdale Village Manager Steve Pappalardo later elaborated on water rates and the rationale behind the recent rate increase, which is effective as of March 2018. “There has been increased discussion in the community... (with) the primary concern being the reduction of the multiplier used to establish the excess rate, coupled with the increase in the base rate,” he said. Scarsdale purchases its water wholesale from the New York City Water Supply System and establishes annual water rates at a higher level to fully support the village’s water utility’s operating and capital expenses. Pappalardo stated, “The water fund has mitigated rate increases through the planned use of fund balance over the past decade, as the Village completed major capital improvements and necessary upgrades to our two pumping stations, as well as making a partial payment to the New York City Water Board over a longstanding legal dispute regarding methodology of determining base and excess water rates.” He continued, “Village water customers benefitted from the use of fund balance for these items by paying the lowest entitlement water rates in the county over this period, with Scarsdale’s current rate remaining at or near the bottom of the list. By comparison, the excess rate has been one of the highest countywide over the same period.”

Pappalardo went on to say that, in 2016, the Village Board decided that the excess rate multiplier should be consistent with New York City’s excess rate multiplier, as charged to the village on the wholesale rate. “New York City’s excess rate has declined over the past five years, with no changes over the past two. The current excess rate multiplier is currently 2.94 times the base rate. The village’s adopted 2018 decrease… from 3.5 times to 3 times the base rate is in response to New York City’s reduced excess rate, in order to maintain consistency with the Village Board’s longstanding policy.” He added, “The revenues generated from the sale of water are disproportionately provided through the sale of excess water. Applying the new rate schedule to the actual usage over last four billing periods indicates that excess water sales will account for over 70 percent of all water funds received.”

So effectively, according to Pappalardo, residents paying the excess fee are funding 70 percent of Scarsdale’s water fund. He also asserts that, “The savings in the excess multiplier does very little to overcome the significant rate subsidy excess rate users have been providing and… will continue to provide.” He finished his comments by cautioning the Village not to become dependent on excess water usage rates to support its water utility. The New York City water excess use penalties are significant, and, excess water rate revenues may fluctuate over the long term, in response to effective and aggressive water conservation efforts, and other factors such as weather.

In the public comment portion of the meeting, Brice Kirkendall-Rodriguez (Fox Meadow Road) addressed the water rate increase and the mayor and village manager’s comments by saying, ”I think we’re on our third or fourth iteration of explanation of village policy on water. To be clear, the change in rates is what is regressive. And, close to 90 percent of Scarsdale residents are going to subsidize the remaining 10 percent in this shift of rates.” He went on, “The letter that was sent out (delivered a) message of shared sacrifice, that we have these capital projects, and that’s great… The reality is that more than half of that 12 percent increase is actually used to pay for the decrease.”

Kirkendall-Rodriguez then asserted that, over the past four billing periods, the amount raised by the base rate increase is about $106,000. However, the amount lost through the proposed excess rate reduction is $127,000. “We’re told this is for capital improvements but more than half of it is going to a rate reduction. So, Manager Pappalardo, you talk about the fact that a significant percentage of our excess rate payers are covering an even greater percentage of the total cost of water, but I’m a little concerned, because it almost seems to be suggesting that we want excess users to… subsidize those who use less water. No, we don’t. We want people to conserve water. Period,” he stated. “We’ve already said that Scarsdale is among the top 10 percent of consumers of water in the system… The rate of increase of suburban use relative to city use has been growing over the last two decades… There’s a household right now in Scarsdale that consumes, on average, 10,000 gallons of water a day. They pay a $53,000 water bill… That’s 38 times what the median Scarsdale resident uses, in terms of water. And, it will require 51 residents who are already conserving water… to pay for the $2,000 rate reduction they’re going to get this year… I don’t want to encourage people to consume water… excess water usage is contrary to the long-term interests of the community. I’m not asking for an increase in the excess rate, I’m asking you not to cut it.”

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