Ardsley property owners received their first quarterly sewer rent bill in September, and some of them are now challenging what they consider an arbitrary and badly timed charge.
On Nov. 1, attorney Michael DeSimone, who has lived in Ardsley for eight years, launched a Change.org petition protesting the sewer fee; by Nov. 10 the petition had surpassed its original goal of 200 signatures and upped its goal to 500.
The petition, which is directed to Mayor Nancy Kaboolian and the village board, states, “In the midst of a global pandemic, record unemployment, and record tax levels… the Board of Trustees adopted a resolution amending Chapter 165 of the Code of the Village of Ardsley to establish a program to more equitably distribute the costs of maintaining and operating our Village's sanitary sewer system. The Sewer Rent Program is an annual charge billed quarterly to all users of the sanitary system based on water usage. Ardsley residents are tired of being overcharged at every turn and given nothing in return.
“Sign this petition to voice your opposition and demand the Ardsley Board of Trustees repeal this amendment to the Ardsley Village Code, remove this unconscionable charge and conduct a public hearing to address residents’ concerns.”
DeSimone later updated the petition to state that the sewer rent bills are “an effective 20 percent increase on our water bills.”
The fee, based on how much water a residential or commercial property discharges into the sanitary sewer system, was calculated by Suez, the company that also bills separately for water usage.
According to a March 26 amendment to local law, the purpose of sewer rents is “to more equitably distribute the cost of owning, operating, and maintaining the Village of Ardsley sanitary sewer system by allocating such expenses among all properties in the Village that use the sewer system.”
Previously, tax-exempt properties — 8.5 percent of Ardsley’s property — did not pay for discharging water into the sewer system; other property owners absorbed that cost for them. That is no longer the case.
The sewer rent fund will cover the cost of operation, maintenance, upkeep, repair, replacement, and other improvements to the village’s sewer system — expenses that previously came out of the village’s general fund. The general fund comprises taxpayer money; the village government’s rationale is that a separate sewer fund will keep taxes down in the long run.
That’s not how the petitioners see it.
DeSimone told the Enterprise he’s following comments posted by residents on the Ardsley Moms and Dads Facebook page. “What people are really angry about is that they [the village board] did it in the middle of a pandemic.” He said that there has been “so little communication about what we’re paying, why we need it.”
Erich Hartmann, another petition supporter, concurred. “I felt like it was out of left field. There are unanswered questions. Weren’t we paying this before? Is this going to make our Suez bill go down?”
Kaboolian maintains that the Village did share plans for the sewer rent fund in advance, providing opportunities for residents to voice their opinions. A legal notice was published in this newspaper, advance information was sent out in a Village eblast, and the agenda for March and May public hearings was posted on the Village website. All relevant documents, including a Q&A and sewer rent grievance form, are available on the website, at https://bit.ly/3kiZaeM.
DeSimone filed a grievance, requesting a credit of $45.06 on his $115.51 sewer rent bill for water not discharged into the village sanitary sewer from June 30 through Sept. 30. He included an affidavit regarding his use of a Rachio smart irrigation system to monitor the water usage of his back-, front-, and side-yard sprinklers.
He finds the grievance procedure “one of the many failures of this Village,” because it requires the property owner to provide information difficult to obtain, such as a report from a state-licensed engineer or data from a sub-meter that has been inspected by the Village. The resolution passed by the village board establishing a sewer rent rate and adjustment procedures states, “The system user has the burden of proof.”
The sewer rent does not impact water bills, according to the mayor.
“Their water bill won’t change,” Kaboolian said. “This has nothing do with how much people pay for water. That bill comes from Suez. That rate is set by Suez. The sewer fee is based on the amount of water they use. The sewer rent fee is $1.89 per hundred cubic feet of water used, based on historic usage provided by Suez.”
As for what customers pay for water usage unrelated to sewer rent, the New York State Public Service Commission authorized an increase in service rates for Suez customers effective Feb. 1, 2020, but the rate implementation was delayed until Oct. 1 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.