Fluoride,Water meter project,
(note: because the discussions at some meetings touched on more than one water related subject, a keyword search should be used to follow a specific topic, e.g., water meters.)
Town Board 3-10-2020
(Scroll below for background on the meter replacement issue.) Water Superintendent Ken Rundle and Sensus representatives explained the multiple benefits to both the town and residents of continuing the installation of the digital meter monitoring system that the town started in 2011 but which has stalled. Only about half of the water district’s 9,755 residential customers and one quarter of the larger commercial customers are connected to the system. Mr. Rundle advised the board that in 2019 the town lost about $627,000 in revenue from water usage that was not metered, e.g., water used for fire fighting or water main breaks, or not accurately metered because of the age of the meters. A good part of that lost revenue could be captured, he said, with the installation of the new smart meters. He estimated that replacing all the existing old meters would cost about $2.5 M and that the town was exploring the possibility of applying for a grant to cover the cost.
No decisions were made.
Commercial meter testing
(See 2-11-2020 below.) The town attorney had prepared language amending the Water Code to include a fine for non compliance but as the board had not seen the proposed changes, the decision to schedule a public hearing on the proposed amendment was put off until next week when the board would have a chance to review the proposed amendment.
Mr. Rundle explained that since parts were no longer available for commercial meters installed prior to the year 2000, commercial customers would be better off replacing their meter, at a cost of about $1,300, rather than having their existing meter tested
Town Board, 2-11-2020
Water Superintendent Rundle advised the board that the town has not enforced the provision in the Water Code that requires commercial customers (anyone with a water line larger than 1.5”) to test their meters for accuracy every three years and that as meters age, they slow down, resulting in a loss of revenue. Before his department sends out letters advising the 350-400 commercial customers to test their meters, he explained that the Code had to be amended to include a penalty for non compliance. The board agreed and asked Mr. Rundle to work with the town attorney to draft the necessary amendment, similar t what other towns inclue in their water code.
Mr. Rundle explained that the test could cost $12,000-$15,000, and that given the age of some of the meters, and the likelihood that replacement parts were no longer available for meters that date back to the 1980s, it might be less expensive for some customers to replace their meters rather than have them tested.
Councilman Diana suggested that the town consider amending the time period for testing to something less than every three years.
Town Board, 5-21-2019
In a power point presentation, Water Distribution Superintendent Ken Rundle explained the work of the department, the need for millions of dollars for infrastructure upgrades and the rational for the proposed $0.90/1,000 gallons increase that he said would cost the average household about $69 more a year. (The presentation is available on the town’s web site, www.yorktownny.org.) Mr. Rundle said that the rate increase would bring in an additional $650,000 a year and would only be a temporary stop gap measure.
No one disagreed with the need for the increase, although Mr. Grasso noted that the increase would be a hardship to the town’s seniors. In response to a suggestion from Highway Superintendent Paganelli that the local law that sets the rate include some type of automatic increase so that the law wouldn’t need to be amended every time expenses went up and the rate needed to be increased, it was ultimately decided that there was no feasible way to include such a provision and that the best way to deal with the need for future increases would be during the annual budget hearing.
The board closed the hearing and voted to adopt the new law that raised the rate to $7.15/1,000 gallons, lower than the Cortlandt rate of $7.83 but higher than the Somers rate of $6.38.
Town Board, 4-24-2018
Water Superintendent Ken Rundle brought up two issues: the need to proceed with the delayed cement lining project and also the replacement of old water meters with the new computer read system. He said he wanted feedback from the board on how to proceed with both projects. He estimated the relining would cost about $2.5 million and suggested that if the board decided to proceed with the project, it could be done in phases. The issue was where the money would come from as the comptroller advised the board that only $1.2 M was available in the water district’s fund balance. She added that additional funds would be available after two years when the bond anticipation note that financed Yorktown’s share of a water tank replacement at Joint Water Works was paid off.
In response to Councilman Lachterman’s question about the life span of the cast iron pipes in question, Mr. Rundle said that they could last 50 or more years and that there were many variables; many cast iron pipes in the Mohegan area installed in the 1930s are still serviceable. He added that the cement lining was good for about 25 years.
Councilwoman Roker said the town had to be proactive and that the issue was not if but when.
On water meters, Mr. Rundle talked about the benefits of the computer read technology that was installed in about 2,000 houses in circa 2011. Since the previous board put a hold on adding the meters to the rest of the district’s customers, and instead said that new meters would only be installed when a house was sold (seller or buyer bearing the cost), only 100-125 meters a year have been installed. He said that instead of replacing the existing meter, there might be a less expensive alternative (Note: this point was not completely clear.)
In a separate discussion, he said that the town’s water loss (water used but which wasn’t metered and paid for)
Town Board, 9-27-2016
Leak Detection Program
Citing a 25% water loss (water the town purchases from the Northern Westchester Joint Water Works but doesn’t bill customers for) Water Superintendent Ken Rundle explained the value of the town’s yearly leak detection program. In addition to having an annual contract with an outside vendor for $20,000 who does a yearly leak detection survey, the department recently bought its own leak detection equipment. Mr. Rundle said he wanted to spend an additional $6,000 this year that would pay overtime to town staff to use its own equipment in the evening hours to do additional leak tests. Eventually, he said, it may not be necessary to continue the services of the outside vendor and the cost would pay for itself. He added that there would always be a certain amount of water loss but that the leak detection equipment was another tool the department could use to reduce the loss. The board gave him the okay to proceed.
Public hearing on bond authorization
Supervisor Grace explained that Yorktown’s share of the cost of the new storage tank at the joint Water Works would be $1.1 million. He did not say what the total cost would be but explained that since the new tank will be larger than the one being replaced in order to provide more capacity for Montrose Water District and Cortlandt, those two communities would be paying for the extra capacity. He noted that the cost of the new tank is actually less than what it would have cost to maintain and paint the existing tank.
Ed Ciffone and Susan Siegel (the person writing this summary) questioned why the resolution was to bond “up to a maximum of $3 million” when the town’s share would only be $1.1 million. In response, Supervisor Grace said that the town would only be borrowing $1.1 million. When Comptroller Pat Caporale explained that the $3 million figure was based on an initial estimate and that the town only received the $1.1 million figure on Monday, she said the resolution only needed to be for $1.1 million. Supervisor Grace continued to argue for the $3 million resolution, saying he was only planning to borrow $1.1 million. But when Ciffone and Siegel continued to ask why then was the resolution for $3 million, the supervisor eventually agreed to modify the resolution so that it would be for only $1.1. million.
Water Superintendent Rambo advised the board that after the water department discovered in 2011 that some BOCES buildings built in the 1980s did not have water meters, meters and required backflow devices were installed. The outstanding issue was how to charge BOCES for the unmetered water that had not been paid for. Using different water rates covering the unbilled period, Mr. Rambo, working with the town attorney, developed a formula that resulted in a bill of $25,947.
Mr. Rambo advised the board that in a phone conversation with BOCES, the latter said it would pay half that amount and said it was Yorktown’s fault that meters had not been installed. (Who, why and how meters were not installed in the 1980s remains a mystery.) After an inaudible exchange between Supervisor Grace and the town attorney that appeared to deal with issue of whether the town could legally charge for water dating back to the 1980s, the board directed the attorney to send a letter to BOCES.
The board voted to advertise a public hearing for May 3 that will deal with financing Yorktown’s 49% share of the new storage tank at the Joint Water Work’s Catskill facility. The resolution said the estimated cost of the project was a maximum of $3 million. (Note: the exact cost of the project will not be known until at least later this week when the Joint Water Works is expected to open bids for the project.) The resolution did not specify how Yorktown would pay for its share; Supervisor Grace said it could be a bond, or, if the cost came in lower than anticipated, the town may have the cash on hand.
Supervisor Grace opened the hearing on the proposed increase in water usage charges by explaining that the rates hadn’t been increased since 2006, despite the fact that the Northern Westchester Joint Water Works has increased the cost of the water it sells Yorktown. He noted that our rates were one of the lowest in Westchester, with other rates ranging from $8-$12/1,000 gallons.
Steve Meltz said he had no problem paying the higher rate but asked that as a measure of fairness, the water meter replacement project be completed so that all residents, and not just the 2,500 who have the new meters, pay for the water they use. When Supervisor Grace explained the plan to gradually phase in the new meters by requiring that the new meters be installed when houses are sold, Mr. Meltz noted that this could take a long time.
The water meter project was also brought up by Susan Siegel, the person writing this summary, who noted that the project would generate approximately $500,000 in new revenue and reduce expenses by about $150.000.
Supervisor Grace repeated his belief that the $2.25 million cost to complete the project would not result in sufficient additional revenue, or reduce the district’s water loss, and did not justify the expense.
Councilman Patel supported the project, noting that it was approved unanimously by a previous board.
Ms. Siegel said she supported the increase but was concerned about what she called the mismanagement of the district’s finances over the past four years. Using a series of charts, she called attention to the district’s operating deficits and the need to use $2.2 million of fund balance to balance the district’s books for 2012-2014, with more fund balance likely needed to balance the 2015 books.
Supervisor Grace defended cut in the district’s tax rate (a point brought up by Ms. Siegel) and “giving back” the fund balance to taxpayers, saying that it was the taxpayers’ money and the town shouldn’t hold on to it; if we kept the money, he said, we’d spend it on things we don’t need. He added that now that the fund balance was in equilibrium, the district could take care of the capital projects on its agenda.
William LaSacla, owner of the shopping center in Jefferson Valley, asked if the rate increase could be phased in for some of his tenants who have large water bills. In response Ms. Siegel asked the Board to enforce the provision in the town code that requirescommercial meters to be tested for accuracy every three years, something that hasn’t been done for many years, she said.
The hearing was closed and the Board approved the amendments to the local law that increased the user charge to $6.25/1,000 and automatically increases the rate to reflect the increased cost of the water purchased from the Joint Water Works.
Attending this special work sessn devoted exclusively to the Water Department were Water Superintendent David Rambo, Assistant Water Superintendent Kenneth Rundle and Human Resources Specialist Margaret Gspurning.
As with last week’s special work session with the Parks & Recreation District staff, Supervisor Grace explained that this meeting was to give the board an overview of the department’s activities and long range goals.
In addition, he advised those present that later in the evening Catherine Paget, Business Director and Matthew Geho, Operations Director of the Northern Westchester Joint Water Works (NWJWW) would join the meeting to discuss an emergency capital project. (See below for this discussion and its financial implications.)
The following were some of the long term issues that were discussed.
Increase in water rates: The board agreed to a proposed local law raising the rate by $1.25/1,000 gallons to $6.25 (two options for smaller rate increases were rejected) and set a March 1 public hearing. The New York City pass through charge is in addition to the $6.25/1,000. (See discussion below about NWJWW emergency capital project.)
The increase will generate approximately $1.25 million. Basedon the average customer using 90,000 gallons a year. . For homeowners who pay the minimum bill of $45/bill, the new bill will be $56.25, plus the NYC pass through.
It was noted that Cortlandt adjusts its water rates annually, by resolution, based on increases in what the NWJWW charges; there have been four increases in the past five years. Yorktown has not increased its rates in 10 years. Cortlandt currently charges just under $8.00/1,000. (The rate includes the NYC pass through.)
Mr. Geho noted that over the past five years, there has been an average percentage increase of 5.67% in what the NWJWW charges its member components. The NWJWW has added on a 20 cents/1,000 surcharge onto the wholesale rate it charges its members to finance capital projects.
Distribution lines: The need to eliminate what the department calls “spaghetti lines,” narrow lines put in many years ago that typically serve only a single house. These should all be connected to the district’s main distribution line in the street.
Water loss: The district loses the revenue from about 800,000 gallons a year due to water loss, i.e., water that is consumed but does not go through a meter. The loss is attributed to leaks, malfunctioning meters, breaks, and hydrants. Mr.Rundle noted that even a large water main break accounts for a small portion of the loss. The department spends about $20,000 a year for an outside vendor to test for leaks in the entire system; based on the repairs made as a result of the findings, the department estimates it saves $50,000 a year. The department would like to purchase a $30,000 piece of equipment that will help it locate leaks on an ongoing basis. Mr. Rundle explained that sometimes, because the source of the leak is not where the water appears, it takes department staff additional time to find the source of the leak. The board appeared to agree that the equipment was cost effective and gave Mr. Rambo the go ahead to prepared bid specs.
Meters: The department is continuing to use in house staff to install the new meters in meter pits. A total of 2,800 new meters have been installed. (The district has 10,000 accounts.) Mr. Rambo will meet with the town attorney next week to go over the legislation suggested by Supervisor Grace last year to require the new meters be installed when houses are sold. (See below 8/11/2015.)The board also directed Mr. Rambo to test the meters used to provide water to out of district users.
GIS Mapping. There was a continued discussion of the department’s need for a new GIS vendor and Supervisor Grace’s concern that there should be some consolidation or interaction between the GIS systems used by other departments. He said he hoped to get this issue resolved in 60-90 days.
Storage tanks: The existing tanks have been inspected and are all in acceptable condition. However, preventative maintenance is needed. One vendor has proposed a five year, $2 million contract to paint all six tanks, and, after that, for $410,000 a year, inspect and monitor the tanks. There was no follow up discussion on if and when some of the tanks would need to be painted. (See discussion below about emergency storage tank replacement at NWJWW.)
Coordination with other departments: Mr. Rundle explained that the department had no problem assisting the highway department for snow plowing (by law, the district only plows within the water district) but that if a water main break occurs while department staff is plowing, the department’s first priority is fixing the break. Also, the department has no problem sharing its specialized vactor truck with highway for cleaning out catch basins, but it wants a water department employee to work with highway on the task.
Roof project: The future of the small building at the department’s Shrub Oak location remained undecided. The issue was whether the cost of replacing the roof (and removing the asbestos shingles) is worth the expense; the first bids were rejected because of the cost, and the second bids came in higher than the first, with the lowest bid at $95,000. Mr. Rambo explained that the building is used for storage and as a rest/sleep location for highway department staff during snow plowing events. In response to a previous suggestion that highway department staff could do the roofing job, Mr. Rambo said he preferred to have the work one by a regular outside vendor. No decision was made.
Northern Westchester Joint Water Works Emergency Project
Mr. Geho and Ms. Paget explained that based on recent inspections a storage tank at the Catskill facility is failing and needs to be replaced by May/June at the latest. (The tank passed inspection in 1987 and for reasons not known, it was not inspected on a regular basis after that date.) Mr. Keho estimated that a new tank will cost $1.7-$1.9 million, plus the added cost for demolishing the existing tank and site work. Depending on the site work cost, the total project could cost between $2.5-$3 million.
Yorktown will be responsible for 49% of the cost.
Bids are due back later in February and the NWJWW board will have to make a decision at its March meeting in order to move the project forward. The new tank needs to be installed by June in order to accommodate the higher summer usage. Because by law the NWJWW is not allowed to bond, and the NWJWW fund balance cannot absorb the cost, the component members of the NWJWW will have to make the funds available this year. Cortlandt has already approved a resolution to bond its 35% share and Somers will use its water district fund balance to fund its 6% share. Supervisor Grace put off any discussion of how Yorktown will pay its 49% share, although he did float an idea about some type of loan that was not fully explained.
Note: The board went back into executive session to discuss district personnel issues. The CIY observer left the meeting at this point.
Citing the fact that the town’s water rate of $5.00/1,000 gallons hasn’t been changed since 2006, and that it’s “significantly” lower than rates in other towns, Supervisor Grace is proposing to raise the rate by $1.25 to $6.25/1,000 gallons. The town attorney was directed to draw up the appropriate local law so that the board can set up a public hearing. The supervisor said it was his “mistake” that the rates should have been increased incrementally over the past several years but weren’t..
In response to a comment by Councilman Patel that not all water consumed goes into the sewer system, e.g., filling a pool or watering a lawn, Supervisor Grace said he would look into the issue of whether the increase would also be passed on to taxpayers who also pay a separate “sewer” charge based on their water consumption.
As part of the discussion, the board was advised that one of the storage tanks at the Joint Water Works will have to be replaced. Because the Joint Water Works cannot bond to pay for the project, Supervisor Grace said the project will have to be paid for either by each participating municipality paying its pro rated share of the expense, or passing along the expense as a charge on the water bills .
When Councilman Patel raised the issue of the administrative fee that district pays to the General Fund, Supervisor Grace responded that issue has been vetted before and he defended the 6% fee.
After approving 2015 budget transfers totaling $150,000 to cover the higher than budgeted cost of purchasing water, Supervisor Grace announced that the town would be increasing water rates sometime in 2016.
(Note: This was the second budget transfer to cover a shortage in the water purchase budget line item; the board okayed a $450,000 transfer to the budget line item on December 15, 2015.)
The board approved a transfer of $450,000 from an unused capital projects budget line to cover the deficit in the budget line item for the purchase of water from the Northern Westchester Joint Water Works. Supervisor Grace indicated that water rates may need to be raised next year.
Cement lining. Water Superintendent Rambo explained that an additional segment of unlined pipe was identified on Front Street and that this will be added to the three mile project, estimated to cost $1.6 million. The Strawberry Road and Baldwin Rd relining will be done next summer.
Backhoe: When the board previously authorized the department to purchase a new backhoe e, using funds in its 2015 budget, the suggestion was made that the existing backhoe be “sold” to the Parks Department. Mr. Rambo advised the board, however, that the Parks Department has said it did not have the $16,000-$$20,000 in its budget to purchase the backhoe and that given the backhoe’s 25 year history, it might be a financial drain in terms of ongoing repair costs. (Because the two departments are financed by different budget funds, the water district has to be made whole for any sale of equipment to another budget fund. ) Instead, Mr. Rambo suggested auctioning off the backhoe. Supervisor Grace said he still felt that the Parks Department could use the backhoe but agreed to put the equipment up for auction to see how much it might fetch.
Part time cleaner: Mr. Rambo requested permission to use some of seasonal/part time money in his budget to hire a person for 16 hours/week to clean the department’s offices. The work is currently being done by the department’s labor staff but Mr. Rambo felt the work wasn’t being done properly as the men were more used to doing outside work. Supervisor Grace opposed the idea and advised Mr. Rambo to direct his men to do a better cleaning job.
What started out as a routine budget transfer vote, turned into a broader discussion about usage rates, taxes, meters and the use of fund balance.
Water Superintendent Rambo explained that the amount left in the budget line for the purchase of water from the Northern Westchester Joint Water Works (NWJWW) was not sufficient to pay the November and December bills that were expected to total about $400,000. He explained that the reason for the shortfall was that the town had not increased what it charges customers per 1,000 gallons used even though the NWJWW had increased what it charges its members. Supervisor Grace then explained the difference between the water bills that were based on consumption and the water tax that was based on the property’s assessed value and which paid for the district’s infrastructure
This led to Supervisor Grace to state that the water rates should be raised so that customers pay for what they use and to additional comments about how to fund infrastructure projects that should be paid through the water tax as distinct from water purchases. Town attorney Koster said that in the past, water rates have been raised by local law although she seemed to think that this could also be done by resolution.
In response, I agreed that infrastructure costs should be paid for separately and suggested the board have a meeting in January at which time there could be a discussion about capital projects and how to fund them, i.e., from fund balance or bonding. I also said that if the issue was customers paying for the water they used, then that was justification for proceeding with the water meter project. As he has done in the past, Supervisor Grace said saw no value to continuing with the meter project and that discussion, like the capital projects discussion, was put off from a future meeting.
The board approved transferring $500,000 for the district’s fund balance to cover a shortfall in the $3,525,940 budget line for water purchase with the understanding that if there was any remaining money left in the line at the end of the year, it would be returned to fund balance.
Miscellaneous issues (see also fluoride)
Cement lining. Mr. Rambo said he was ready to go out to bid on the three mile cement lining project.
Cement lining. Mr. Rambo said he was ready to go out to bid on the three mile cement lining project.
Telemetry project. Mr. Rambo said he was requesting authorization to spend about $4,000 for some electronic equipment that would monitor water volumes in the system’s storage tanks.
Water line insurance. Mr. Rambo informed the board that a company has been leaving flyers in mailboxes about purchasing insurance against water line breaks on their property. The insurance cost $5/month. He said he wasn’t encouraging or endorsing any such product, adding that the chances of a leak were very slim.
Disputed water bills. Four property owners are disputing their water bills. One involves a timing issue and needs a modification in the town code: although the bill was paid in a timely fashion, because of a date requirement in the town code, it was considered late, added on to the property’s town tax bill and charged a late fee. The other three disputed bills involved spikes in usage that resulted in higher bills, one of which might have been the result of a leaking toilet; no leaks were detected in the other two properties. The consumption at one property jumped from an average of 30,000 gallons to 290,000 gallons, resulting in a $2,000 water bill.
When Councilman Bianco suggested that installing the new meters would alert the property owner to the spike in usage, Supervisor Grace said that property owners don’t want the new meters because they would more accurately report usage, explaining that as the meters age, they slow down so that any inaccuracy is in the consumer’s favor.
A discussion followed whether the town code could be amended to allow paying off excessive bills in installments.
When Councilman Bianco raised the issue of fairness and that some people pay their entire bills on time, Town Attorney Koster said she would look into installment options but that such an arrangement would involve charging interest.
The Board covered a variety of issues with Water Superintendent Rambo.
a. Okayed transfer of $40,000 from capital projects line to purchase water maintenance materials.
b. Okayed purchase of 2 Ford vehicles off the county bid as there was no response to the town’s bid; Mr. Rambo reported that local vendors said they could not beat the county bid price. Funds for the purchase are in the district’s 2013 budget. Two older vehicles will be “sold” to other town departments.
c. Okayed going to bid to replace a 1975 boiler
d. Meter project. See below
(See below for discussion of the water meter project)
Excessive bill: Mr. Rambo advised the Board that a resident who does not occupy the house in the winter complained about a $700 bill for usage that spiked in January and was noticed in February. The usage reports showed significant hourly differences. The reason for the spike has not been determined. Councilman Paganelli said that even if the town was responsible for only 105 of the problem, the town should negotiate a settlement with the resident. But Supervisor Grace and Councilman Murphy said that a settlement would set a bad precedent and they suggested having the resident pay off the bill over a period of years. Mr. Rambo said that the town has never waived any excessive charges.
Water billing. Councilman Paganelli said that the town has dropped the idea of taking water billing back in house as it would only save $10,000 and would jeopardize the integrity of the NWJWW.
a. Cars. The Board gave the okay for the department to purchase two cars. Money is in the budget. The department's older vehicles will be "sold" to other Town departments. Instead of buying off county bid, at the request of Supervisor Grace, the department will prepare specs and go out to bid and then select the best price.Councilman Paganelli advised the Board that based on a separate conversation he had with Water Superintendent Rambo during a break, the department will look at purchasing smaller hybrid cars as they will typically be used for meter readers.
b. Water meter billing: Mr. Rambo advised the Board that he will return in a few weeks to discuss taking water billing in-house instead of continuing to rely on the Joint Water Works.He said the Town already has the equipment to handle this additional function.
c. Quinlan Street problem. Mr. Rambo said that the “sinking” road conditions on Quinlan are not related to a water main break but is a Highway Department issue.
d. Training. The Board authorized Mr. Rambo attending a three day management training class at a costy of $655.
Water Meter billing and meter replacement program
See Town Board, 5-13-2014 and 12/31/2014 above for discussion of meters and spikes in usage.)
Town Board, 4-5-2016 Supervisor Grace and Water Superintendent David Rambo explained the provisions of the new law. Mr. Rambo said that if a meter was less than 10 years old, only the device that allows for remote readings would have to be installed. For meters older than 10 years, both a new meter and a remote reader will be installed. He estimated that the estimated 350 final meter readings each year would generate between $82,000-$96,000 in revenue, which prompted Supervisor Grace to note that this would save the water district about $60,000 a year since the district would not have to pay for the new meters. He repeated his earlier comments that having the district install the new meters for the district’s remaining 6,0000 customers did not generate an acceptable return on investment. When Councilman Patel reminded him that the 2010 vote to install the new meters in the entire district was unanimous, the supervisor responded that the initial project had not been properly vetted. The board closed the hearing and adopted the local law.
Town Board, 3-8-2016
Town Board, 4-5-2016
Supervisor Grace and Water Superintendent David Rambo explained the provisions of the new law. Mr. Rambo said that if a meter was less than 10 years old, only the device that allows for remote readings would have to be installed. For meters older than 10 years, both a new meter and a remote reader will be installed. He estimated that the estimated 350 final meter readings each year would generate between $82,000-$96,000 in revenue, which prompted Supervisor Grace to note that this would save the water district about $60,000 a year since the district would not have to pay for the new meters. He repeated his earlier comments that having the district install the new meters for the district’s remaining 6,0000 customers did not generate an acceptable return on investment. When Councilman Patel reminded him that the 2010 vote to install the new meters in the entire district was unanimous, the supervisor responded that the initial project had not been properly vetted.
The board closed the hearing and adopted the local law.
Town Board, 3-8-2016
Town Attorney McDermott briefly reviewed with the board the text of a law that would require the building department to determine, at the time a residence is being sold, whether the existing water meter is adequate or should be replaced. If it needs to be replaced, the owner and buyer will decide who will pay the $275 fee. Supervisor Grace estimates that about 300 houses are sold each year; not all would necessarily require that a new meter be installed. A date for a public hearing was not set.
Water Superintendent David Rambo presented the board with revised numbers on the 1,600 meters that had been replaced and were tested for accuracy. Using guidelines from the American Waterworks Association, he calculated that the town lost approximately $118,000 in yearly revenue from the old meters. Supervisor Grace repeated his argument that the potential revenue to be gained by installing the new, more accurate meters to the remaining 7,500 customers did not generate a sufficient return on investment to warrant spending $3 million to complete the meter project. He wanted the fund balance used to improve the system’s infrastructure instead of “chasing” water loss from meters.
With it clear that only Councilmen Patel and I supported the project, Mr. Rambo said he would table the meter project and instead focus on reducing water loss by replacing values and hydrants and proceed with other capital projects, including painting the water storage tanks at a cost of $500,000 each and a new GIS system. Because of the delay in getting Board of Health approval for the cement lining project, the project will not be done until next year, with bids expected to be advertised in Jan/Feb.
Mr. Rambo also itemized the need for two new vehicles: a storage van (an item eliminated from the 2015 budget) and a new vactor truck that would cost between $300,000-$400,000. The current vactor would be “sold” to the highway department to replace its aging truck that is shared with the sewer department.
In response to my follow up questions about metering, Mr. Rambo explained the following.
1. The department is installing the new meters in existing meter pits (meters that are buried in the ground); of the approximately 800 pits, about 300 have been done. This work will continue.
2. According to town code, commercial water meters are required to be tested for accuracy every three years. To the best of his knowledge, Mr. Rambo said this probably hasn’t been done in over 10 years, even though some users, such as restaurants, are large consumers of water. I requested that he review department records and prepare a list for the board of large users whose meters haven’t been tested in several years.
3. Yorktown supplies water to parts of Cortlandt, Somers and Putnam Valley. Mr. Rambo will review the contracts with these towns to see if there is any requirement that the accuracy of these meters be tested at regular intervals. (The town buys water from New Castle for IBM and the Kitchawan Water District; New Castle requires the town to test the meter every year.)
Supervisor Grace suggested that when a house is sold, the new owners be required to install the new meters. Town Board, 7-7-2015
Howard Frank again brought up the issue of the town’s water loss ratio and spoke in favor of completing the meter project. In response, Supervisor Grace said that the loss was due to leaks and that it made more sense to “harden” the water district’s infrastructure than replace existing meters. He noted that the installation of the first 2,500 new meters had not resulted in any reduction in the percentage of water loss.
In response to the supervisor’s comments, I explained that there were two related issues: the water loss ratio and the ongoing loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue to the water district because meters aren’t accurately recording the water that is being consumed. The lost revenue was based on the accuracy tests done on 1,693 old meters that were replaced. I explained that the additional revenue from usage charges would mean that the water district tax rate could be reduced. I also pointed out that the meters would save an additional $150,000 /year because the town could eliminate, by attrition, two meter reader positions.
Councilman Patel also spoke in favor of completing the meter project, noting that it would enable homeowners to monitor their usage and control their bills. Councilman Diana said that completing the project would require the construction of a new tower to read the additional meters, a statement I refuted as being totally inaccurate.
Referring to the town’s 2014 Annual Water Report, which noted a 21% water loss, Howard Frank said that continuing with the installation of the new water maters would reduce the loss. Supervisor Grace disagreed and said that the money that would go to the meter project could be better used on other unspecifir3ed projects. I agreed with Mr. Frank noting that the town was losing money due to inaccurate meters that weren’t recording all the water some homeowners were using. Calling the completion of the water meter project a “no brainer,” I said that the town could gain an estimated $500,000-$750,000 a year in additional revenue once new meters, that were guaranteed to be 99.9% accurate for 10- years. were installed.
Water Superintendent David Rambo and Catherine Paget, Business Director for the Northern Westchester Joint Water Works, made a presentation to the board on why the town should proceed with Phase II of the water meter project. Based on the tests that were done on the old meters replaced in Phase I (2,711 meters were replaced and 1,693 were tested) Mr. Rambo told the board that the Water District is losing an estimated $750,000 a year in revenue because the average accuracy of the “old” meters was only 85%/ In addition, he said that once all 10,000 water accounts had the new “smart” meters, the District could save an additional $150,000 a year by eliminating two meter reader positions by attrition.
Supervisor Grace questioned whether replacing the remaining 7,500 meters that were installed beginning in 1998 would generate that much savings. He also questioned whether the money to install the new meters, that would come from fund balance, would be better spent on other projects which he did not identify.
Councilman Patel and I strongly supported moving ahead with the project. Financially, we saw it as a “no brainer” that was well worth the investment. We believed that homeowners would also benefit from the new technology which would save them money by the early identification of leaks. As explained by Mr. Rambo, when the computer operator who monitors the system sees a spike in usage, he contacts the homeowner and leaks or running toilets can be remedied immediately. Under the current system, a leak may not be detected until the end of the four month billing cycle.
Councilmen Bernard and Diana did not express any opinion about the issue.
At the supervisor’s request, Mr. Rambo will gather more data and return to the board.
For copies of the information Mr. Rambo provided the Town Board, click here.
Town Board, 2-11-2014
Mr. Rambo explained that the registers in the 2,000 recently installed new meters were defective and that the company would replace them at their cost and also assume the cost of installing the replacement part. Letters will be mailed to the 2,000 customers informing them that they will be contacted by the company to set up appointments. There will be no disruption of water service when the defective part is being replaced. In response to questions from Councilman Murphy, Mr, Rambo explained that there was no way to quantify any lost revenue due to the inaccurate meter readings.
Water Distribution Superintendent Rambo advised the Board that due to a defect during the manufacturing process, it was possible that the registers in all 2,000 of the newly installed water meters could be defective. He suggested, and the Board agreed, to one of four options for dealing with the problem. While the Board did not elaborate on the options, it appeared that the selected option involved the meter supplier paying to fix the problem. There was no need for the Board to take any action.
Mr. Rambo reported that based on a survey of 100 installations of the new meters, the new meters reported an additional 250,000 gallons of water used, representing additional revenue of $24,000. He said that the surveyed meters had an average 85% accuracy reading, compared to a guaranteed 99.9% accuracy for the new meters.
Based on the results, he wants to complete installing the new meters in the remaining 400 accounts. However, these customers have refused to allow entrance to their property so that the new meters can be installed. He said that Cortlandt and Montrose water districts fine customers $50 per billing cycle for failure to comply with requirements of the district. When Supervisor Grace said he wasn’t ready to start fining the 400 users, Councilman Paganelli suggested that Mr. Rambo work with the town attorney to send a letter to the users reminding them of their need to comply. We can’t have some users comply and others not, he said.
Mr. Rambo said it would take a longer period of time to do a more definitive study of the savings generated by the new meters and Supervisor Grace said he wanted to know what the return on the capital investment was before proceeding with Phase II.
Regarding the 38 defective meters discussed at a previous meeting, Mr. Rambo said the manufacturer will replace them at no cost and also reimburse the town for the cost of their installation. The new meters have a 10 year warranty. He said that because, in the past, it would have taken 10 years to replace 2,000 meters, the number of defective meters over that many years wouldn’t have been noticed. Since the new meters were installed over 6 months, the defective number showed up immediately.
The Board asked Water Superintendent Rambo to work with the Joint Water Works to do a statistical analysis of the savings generated by the installation of the 2,000 new Flexnet meters. Supervisor Grace wanted to know if the additional revenue generated by the new, more accurate meters, was sufficient to offset the cost of the project. The findings from the study will be used to decide if the town should proceed to install the meters in the remaining 8,000 water accounts. Mr. Rambo said that an analysis had been delayed due to software issues but that these have since been resolved.
As part of the discussion it was noted that 37 of the new meters had malfunctioned and that the department, along with the manufacturer, is investigating the reason for the failure. The meters did not record water usage.
Distribution Superintendent Rambo advised the Board that 400 new meters remain to be installed, in part because of the delay in getting additional meters but also because the remaining property owners have been slow to comply with requests to allow the meter installers into their homes. Councilman Bianco said he had heard from at least one resident that the installers had not shown up for two appointments.
When Mr. Rambo asked the Board to extend the contract for the installer, Councilman Paganelli reminded him that the Board has previously decided that the remaining meters would be installed by in-house staff. The Board then agreed that the outside company would complete all work that was currently pending into February but that after that, the installations would be done by town staff.
The Board further stated that it would not proceed with Phase II of the program until it evaluated the results of Phase I.
In response to Ed Ciffone’s question about the higher water bills, Councilman Paganelli explained that recent bills have been higher than usual for three reasons: the billing cycle included an additional month, the addition of the NYC pass thru increases that had not been done previously, and for some houses, the installation of new meters which providemore accurate reads.
Water Distribution Superintendent Rambo advised the Board that there were only five cases where there was a discrepancy between the outside and inside water meters. The Board agreed that for the period up to the time the new meters were installed, the property owners would only have to pay based on the outside readings.
The Board also discussed the bids for the new water meters but it wasn’t clear if there was a vote to award the bid or the actual vote would take place at the next meeting. Three bids were received, the lowest one being E.J. Presc ott, the firm that supplied the initial set of meters.
Public hearing on backflow rates
(see earlier discussions)
The Board opened and closed a public hearing that increased the fees the Town charges for the water department to do the annual backflow inspections required by the county Department of Health (DOH).
Water Distribution Superintendent David Rambo explained that the DOH permits towns to do the inspections as long as the tester is certified; DOH doesn’t care who does the testing, only that it is done.He explained that if during the test it is determined that the device needs to be repaired, the property owner has to call in his own plumber to fix the device and that the town will have to return for a retest.
Joe Bonano of J&J Backflow, the person who raised the issue several months ago and the only other person who spoke at the hearing , acknowledged that the Town was within its right to do the testing but again objected to the letter that the Town sends out advising property owners that they needed to have the inspection done. The letter, Mr. Bonanco said, advises property owners to call the water department to schedule the test and does not include a list of other contractors able to do the inspection. He gave Supervisor Grace a copy of the letterthat a southern Westchester private water company sends to its clients that included such a list.He also said that he had no problem with the proposed new rates which he said were higher than his.
The Board unanimously approved the amendments to the Water Code.
Town Board, 9-4-2012
During Courtesy of the Floor, Gil Kauffmann asked the Board for an explanation of why his most recent water bill had doubled and why he couldn’t read the new meter that had been installed on the outside of his house. In response, Supervisor Grace explained that the town was aware of the issue and that Mr. Kaufmann wasn’t the only resident receiving larger than usual bills (see August 14 meeting notes) and that the town was trying to work out a resolution. Some of the issues the town was looking at, he said, were the fact that the rates may have changed over the years that the outside meters weren’t operating properly or that the house may have been owned by someone else during the time the outside meter wasn’t working properly.Councilman Bianco noted that all those who are paying water bills end up paying for those whose meters may not have been operating properly.
The discussion focused on two issues: resident concerns about current bills and next steps for the meter project.
Some residents have experienced large bills after the new meters were installed and have complained to Town officials. Although there was no indication of how many complaints have been received, Supervisor Grace said about three a day with problems in the $400-$500 range, most of the discussion focused on what appeared to be a single complaint from someone who was told he owed $3,000.
Using actual old and new meters, Water Distribution Superintendent David Rambo explained to the Board that there were two “counters” in the old meters; one outside the house and one inside.While the meter readers read the outside meter, once the old meter was taken out and checked, it showed the actual water consumption which in some cases was higher. The resulting bill reflected the actual water that had been consumed but not billed for.
In the ensuing discussion, there was no consensus on how to deal with these adjusted bills. Councilman Paganelli noted that for some residents a perfect storm had occurred: the adjusted meter consumption, the 10% New York City pass thru approved at an earlier meeting, and the fact that the latest bill added a month to the billing cycle.He said he was not comfortable charging anyone $3,000 because of a cumulative error that may not have been the owner’s fault. Mr. Rambo said that there could be multiple reasons for the discrepancy between the two readings, one of which could have been the homeowner tapering with the outside meter. Supervisor Grace said that asking for the $3,000 was like “shaking people” for the last dollar. When Comptroller Goldberg asked Town Attorney Koster for advice on what the Town’s options were to collect the back charges, Ms. Koster said she did not want to give advice in public. In response to a similar question later in the discussion, Supervisor Grace asked for her advice in a written form. She did add, however, that unpaid water bills are added to the property tax bills as liens.
Councilman Murphy said that the Town should start fresh, forgiving the past charges and have the homeowner pay the correct amount going forward.
Mr. Rambo advised the Board that the current Town Code includes a provision that permits residents, for a $5 fee, to request that their meter be tested for accuracy. Anticipating that the new meters may generate several requests for such testing, and anticipating the time it will take to remove, test and reinstall the meters, he suggested that the fee be increased to $85 to reflect actual costs. Supervisor Grace directed him to prepare some draft legislation that could be set for a future public hearing.
Meter replacement project
Mr. Rambo advised the Board that 1,100 of the new meters had been installed. The old meters are testing at an average accuracy rate of 82%, with some coming in as low as 30-40-50%. He said that the company that is installing the new meters has been directed to change only the old meters. Initially, the Board voted 4-1 with Supervisor Grace voting no, to okay going out to bid for the additional purchase of 500 new meters needed to complete the Phase I plan to replace the 2,500 old meters. Later in the discussion, it appeared that the vote was put on hold and Supervisor Grace said that he might vote for the bid at the September 4 meeting.
On the issue of moving ahead to upgrade the 7,500 existing touch read meters, Councilman Paganelli suggested that the Town wait one year so that he had a full year’s worth of data to analyze before proceeding. Councilman Bianco didn’t see the need for the delay noting that the data was coming in good and that the project would pay for itself in less than eight years. Ms. Goldberg noted that as a result of the new technology, the Town could take the water billing function back from the Joint Water Works, and that together with other measures associated with the new technology, the water district could save $300,000 a year.
Supervisor Grace repeated his concern that the bid for Phase I had to be straightened out because it appeared that the Town had locked itself into a specific technology. In response, Councilman Bianco who was on the Board that awarded the first contract, said that there were other companies that were competitive and that the prior Board had had the necessary discussion.
Water Distribution Superintendent Rambo gave the Board an update on what had been spent to date on Phase I of the program. Approximately $862,000 has been spent on installing the monitoring infrastructure and replacing 943 meters, leaving 1,452 still to be replaced.The accuracy rate for the meters that have been replaced was 85%.
Supervisor Grace repeated his concerns about the project, saying that he did not think the job was bid properly because it only included the replacement of 2500 meters, while the distribution system has 10,000 meters; the fact that some of the meters that were replaced (including his) were not the older manual read meters that were the ones that were supposed to be replace; and that it was unconstitutional for the Town to go into someone’s home because the monitoring system was recording a spike in usage. The supervisor also was concerned that the bid from a second vendor with a less expensive technology was not considered and that because of the way the original contract was bid, the Town was now locked into a technology. Town Clerk Roker also expressed misgivings about how the original bid was advertised and said she would call the state comptroller’s office.
Supervisor Grace also raised questions as to whether the Town should proceed with Phase II or use the fund balance money for other purposes which he did not specify.
Mr. Rambo acknowledged that there had been an error in replacing about 10% of the meters and that he would check to make sure that the remaining meters to be replaced were only the older ones. He defended the previous Board’s selection of the monitoring technology as being superior to the less expensive system and he also said that the infrastructure installed as part of phase I was always meant to cover all 10,000 meters in the system. Councilman Bianco saw nothing wrong with how the original bid specs were drawn up.
While Supervisor Grace said the new system would have no effect on reducing the water loss in the system, Councilman Patel disagreed and was a strong supporter of the new system.
No decisions were made other than the Water Department will continue to install the remaining meters in Phase I and that the program will be evaluated before proceeding to Phase II.
Water Distribution Superintendent David Rambo was requesting the Board’s permission to proceed with Phase II of the meter replacement program in order to take advantage of economies of scale.
Phase I included the installation of the electronic equipment to “read” the meters” and the installation of 2,500 meters to replace the oldest meters in the system. The installation work began in May and to date 700 new meters have been installed. Phase II, at a cost of $3.5 million, would include installing the new meters for the water district’s remaining 10,000 customers.Mr. Rambo explained that under the more limited Phase I, the installers have to travel to different parts of town and that it would be more efficient and reduce labor costs if the installation work could be done on a neighborhood basis. It would also mean that the installation project could be completed sooner.
Mr. Rambo said that when the old meters that have been replaced were tested, they were only 85% accurate. This translated into a revenue loss to the town of $652,000 a year, which also meant that the entire cost of the project would be paid back in five years. (The Town is billed by the Joint Water Works for the water it consumes and the Town recoups the cost based on how it bills residents; when meters underreport usage, the town loses money.)
Supervisor Grace had several problems with proceeding with Phase II and with the project in general. When he questioned why the original contract for the 2,500 meters was not given to a company that had a lower per meter price, Mr. Rambo explained that the less expensive meters were not compatible with the electronic monitoring system that the town had decided to use. Mr. Grace also questioned why both phases of the project hadn’t been bid as one unit and said that he didn’t want to have problems if only one vendor bid on the Phase II meters. Comptroller Goldberg explained that as there is only one distributor for the brand of meters the town uses and which are compatible with the already installed monitoring system, the single vendor would qualify as a “sole source’ provider and would meet procurement bidding requirements.There was also a discussion about the need or possibility of separating out the labor costs from the meter costs in a Phase II contract.
While Supervisor Grace said he didn’t want to proceed with Phase II until Phase I was finished in October, Councilman Paganelli, the Town’s representative at meetings of the Joint Water Works, said that he has seen how the monitoring works and how it sends up “red flags” for the homeowner if there are sudden spikes in water usage that could be caused by leaks.Councilman Bianco said that while he initially wasn’t in favor of the project, now that we’ve started it we should continue to replace all the meters. Councilman Patel also strongly supported moving forward.
There was a concern that if the project did not go forward for the remaining 10,000 residents there would be inequities in how homeowners paid for water; those with the newer meters would be paying based on their actual consumption while residents still using older meters would not be paying their fair share.
No action was taken on proceeding with Phase II.
David Goldberg and Joe Bonano again criticized the Town for the slowness in responding to their backflow issue which they said they raised five months ago.(See public hearing advertisements below.) Mr. Bonano said that plumbers were doing the inspection and that it was town that was not handling the paperwork properly which was why the county came down on the town in 2008. Highway Superintendent DiBartolo again defended the program , which he established in 2008 and which he said saved taxpayers money and which eliminated the need for the town to chase down residents and plumbers.Mr. Bonano also criticized Supervisor Grace for not returning his emails.When he asked again for the names and addresses of those places with backflow devices Town Clerk Roker said that the law does not permit the town to release that information.
Water meters. Howard Frank was critical of how the new water meter in his house was installed and expressed concern that he was not given anything in writing that would include the accuracy of his old meter in the event he wanted to dispute his new bill.In response to his concerns that the Town may be undercharging Cortlandt for the water it purchases from Yorktown, Supervisor Grace and Councilman Paganelli both said that they were looking into the issue.
Backflow. (see earlier meeting notes) In response to Mr. Bonano’s request for an update on the issue, Supervisor Grace said that a law had been drafted and would be advertised at a future meeting. He said that the law would include an increase in the Town’s price for doing the backflow inspections and a list of vendors.Local plumber David Goldberg again asked why Yorktown took on this task and what it was costing. Supervisor Grace said that one reason for the Town’s doing the inspections was to assure compliance with the law.
Town Board, 4/10/2012
Reminding the Board that they raised the issue two months ago, David Goldberg and Joe Bonano of J&J Backflow asked how long it would take for the Town to address their concerns about the Town’s backflow program.Supervisor Grace said he anticipated having a response within the coming month. He said he doesn’t want the fee to be arbitrary.Mr. Bonano repeated his request for a copy of the Town’s list of users who require backflow inspections.
Duriing Courtesy of the Floor: Citing minutes of a September 1, 2009 Town Board meeting, Mr. Bonano of J &J Backflow said that the Water Department was incorrectly charging for backflow inspections.Highway Superintendent DiBartolo, who started the program in 2009 when he was in charge of the Water Department, explained that prior to 2009 the town was not in compliance with Health Department regulations that required the Town to keep records of inspections. He said that the in-house program was easy to operate, that it was working well, and he praised the department for the work it was doing. He added that the Town never told water customers that they couldn’t use outside vendors to perform the tests. Councilman Bianco added that he saw no problem with the Town offering a service to its customers.
Mr. Bonano repeated his suggestion that if the Town wanted to use the program to raise revenue, it could charge a witness fee or filing fee that would require fewer Town man hours and which would be more cost effective.
Deputy Supervisor Murphy said he would look into the situation.
(see below for earlier discussions.)
Town Board, 3/26/2012
The Water Department has requested permission to go out to bid to purchase a new dump truck. Councilman Bianco asked if the department needed one and Supervisor Grace wanted to know if the item was included in the department’s 2012 budget. He suggested that the board let the department proceed with the bid and make a final determination later on whether to actually purchase the truck.When the board was ready to postpone taking any action on the request, T own Attorney Koster advised the board of the department’s concern that there was a six month lead time for the delivery of the truck, the board voted 5-0 to authorize the bid.
Mr. Bonanno of J&J backflow said that after viewing the archived tape of the last board meeting he wanted to make sure that his point was clear: he was not concerned about the amount of the fee that the town charged for the backflow inspection but rather he wanted his company’s name included in the letter the Water Department sent advising users of the need for the inspection. In response, Supervisor Grace said, “We hear you,” and we’re looking into it but that things go slowly. He added that he felt the town was undercharging for the work it did and that he didn’t mind if Mr. Bonanno kept reminding him.
Town Board, 3/6/2012
During Courtesy of the Floor, local plumber David Goldberg and Joe Bonano of J&J Backflow repeated their concerns, made at a previous meeting, about the town operating its own black flow business. Mr. Bonano said it was “inappropriate and unethical” for the Water Department to send a letter to commercial users telling them that they needed to have their backflow devices inspected and then, in the same letter, have them call the Water Department to set up an appointment for the test. At a minimum, he wanted his company’s name included in the letter. Since the town started the backflow program in 2009, which is required by the county Health Department, he said he has been losing business.He also said that the town’s charge of $65 undercut the private contractors. He said that in White Plains, private companies did the testing but that the city charged $50 for a city employee to witness the test.In Yonkers, the city charges a $25 fee to file the test results.
In response, Supervisor Grace said that he had spoken to Water Distribution Superintendent David Rambo after Mr. Bonano’s first appearance and that the department was looking into its fee structure and that if it didn’t reflect the town’s actual cost, then the fee would be raised.He said he would have another talk with Mr. Rambo. Talking about fees in general, Supervisor Grace said that the town was looking into all of them and whether they were too low or too high.
Town Board, 2/7/2012Joe Bonana (sp?) of J&J Backflow, accompanied by local plumber Dave Goldberg, charged that it was unethical and a conflict of interest for the town to do the required annual backflow testing and charging money for it. Initially he said that in 2009, the town charged $55 for the inspection, but later said the amount was about $150 this year. He also objected to the town’s denial of his FOIL request last year for the names of local businesses that had backflow devices and said that the town’s practices put his company at a disadvantage. Highway Superintendent DiBartolo, who was in charge of the Water Department from 2008-2009, responded that in 2009 the town was notified by the county that it was not in compliance with the Department of Health’s backflow requirements and that a town program was established and town staff trained. He said there was no conflict of interest. He added that private companies charge $300 for the test and that the town was not running the program like a private business. Supervisor Grace said that there were restrictions in the Freedom of Information Law that governed the release of the list that J&J had requested and that he would look into the other issues with David Rambo, the Water Distribution Superintendent.This is page content.