July 31, 2010
City hands residents hefty water pipe bill
Homeowners on Cedar, Randall streets asked to pay as much as $2,000 for new lines
Homeowners on Cedar and Randall streets received letters recently estimating the costs of the city replacing the iron water pipes in front of their houses with new copper pipes.
The water customers will be required to pay for the portion of the pipe that extends from the water line under the street to the valves that are turned on to provide water to each house.
Cedar and Randall streets are slated to receive new blacktop in 2011. The letters were sent to 24 water customers on those streets, according to the city Water Department, which is now part of the Department of Public Works.
A couple of water customers received bills estimating a grand total of over $2,000 for the replacement. The cost includes equipment and labor. The letters break down the prices for the amount of time each piece of equipment will be used and the cost of materials.
Mayor Susan Feiszli and Alderman Tom Michales (D-8th Ward) both said Friday that many water customers have expressed concern about expensive cost estimates for the work.
“I think that amount that was estimated was extremely high,” Feiszli said.
Michales asked for the city Common Council to discuss the projects during its next meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall.
Feiszli said she sees three options for the council to consider. The city could continue its current system and ask water customers to pay for the repairs; the council could change the city bylaws and the city could begin covering all expenses of water pipe repairs; or the city could only ask the homeowner to pay for the materials used for the repairs and not the labor or equipment.
Michales said he thinks the cost estimates are too high. He said DPW Superintendent Chris Bistocchi told him that he has adjusted his prices to reflect the prices New York state charges.
Michales said the state’s prices for equipment and labor tend to be much higher than municipalities’ prices. He was not sure when Bistocchi changed the fee structure, but said he thinks it was within the past couple of years.
He also said Bistocchi had told him the price of copper has risen sharply, increasing the cost of water line projects.
Bistocchi was not available for comment Friday.
Michales said the DPW is asking all water customers on the streets being repaved to replace the iron water pipes between the streets and the valves near the sidewalks at the same time to avoid the expense of having to tear up a freshly paved street. He said replacing water pipes shortly after the repaving of a road happened frequently when the Water Department and the DPW were separate departments, but Bistocchi is trying to make the process more efficient as supervisor of both departments.
Michales said he requested a public discussion about the projects because he thinks the DPW’s estimated fees for labor and equipment could be reduced or eliminated. He said city water customers are already paying for DPW laborers’ time at work and equipment through water bills.
Michales said homeowners should be charged for the materials used on the projects. He noted that if Bistocchi’s cost estimates are accurate, the city will have to find another way to come up with the money needed for the repairs. He said reducing the costs for these projects could increase every property owner’s water bills.
Michales said Bistocchi told him one option is to eliminate all pipe replacements and charge water customers to replace their pipes only in emergencies, such as when a pipe bursts. But the bills would be higher during emergencies because the DPW would have to tear up and repave sections of the road each time.
Feiszli said the city Water Department has required water customers to replace water pipes since 1910. But she said she does not know if the city has sent water customers letters in past years. The letters might have caused water customers to voice their concern to city officials this year, she said.
Feiszli said she is looking at the cost estimates for similar projects in other municipalities to see if the prices are close.
She said the members of the council will have to decide if the costs for these projects should be spread out onto all city water customers’ bills. She said about 75 percent of the water customers in the city already have copper pipes that will not require replacement in the near future.
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