A vote on the increase in fees for “significant dischargers” to the sewer system, paid by many restaurants, was originally scheduled for Aug. 14 and postponed twice to allow for a meeting between officials and representatives of the chamber of commerce, which opposed the hike.
After a meeting last week, Mayor Paul Aronsohn said Wednesday night, an agreement was reached to keep the rates the same through this year, and revisit the charge again next year with consultation from business owners. The council voted unanimously to defeat the proposed ordinance.
The amendment to the sewage ordinance would have increased fees for property owners who release water into the sewer system in excess of 109,500 gallons. From a $4.03 charge per 1,000-gallon excess, the proposed fee would have gone up to $4.44 this year and $4.84 in 2014.
At the Aug. 14 council meeting, restaurant owner Paul Vagianos, who sits on the board of directors for the Ridgewood Chamber of Commerce, had said the hike represented an unfair burden on small business owners already struggling in a tough economic climate. In his estimation, under the ordinance, which was first adopted in 2008 to complaints from local businesses, each restaurant charged carries the cost for hundreds of homeowners not assessed the fee.
“You have a handful of significant dischargers, people who utilize the sewer system, and you have thousands of other customers who utilize it far more. But those other customers aren’t charged for it,” he said.
“We only want what’s fair,” Vagianos added. “We want to pay our fair share.”
According to the restaurateur, a chamber survey of 15 towns nearby or similar to the village showed that “not one town singled out significant dischargers the way Ridgewood does.”
Chris Rutishauser, the village engineer, noted during a July work session discussion that the restaurants are often affected by the fee based on the efficiency of their water use, which some have improved in the five years since the charge was introduced.
“A number of businesses that got some of the initial bills have realized that water conservation devices have a benefit to them,” he told the council July 10.
When the hike was first proposed, officials said it was intended to mitigate increased costs at the water treatment plant. Stephen Sanzari, the village’s chief financial officer, said that, for now, dropping the rate hike does not affect this year’s budget, which was based on anticipated revenues under the current fee.
Aronsohn said that while the fee would have to be reexamined in the future, the main issue was introducing a hike midyear, when business owners were not anticipating the extra cost.
“Businesses plan a year in advance,” he said. “And to hit them with a fee in the middle of the year struck me as unfair.”