The Lamoille County courthouse and sheriff’s department is feeling soaked by the village of Hyde Park after getting slapped with utility fee increases in excess of 10,000 percent.
Hyde Park Village Water and Light, in order to pay for a multi-million water system overhaul and avoid making its small ratepayer base absorb the cost, has shifted the largest increases to county-, state- and town-owned properties. That includes the courthouse, sheriff’s department, elementary school and town fire department, all located within the utility’s service area.
Joel Page, one of the county’s two assistant judges, said as of last month water meter fees have jumped from $350 a year to $34,000 a year. And, he said, starting next May, wastewater meter fees will increase from $420 a year to $21,000 a year.
That’s roughly 10,000 and 5,000 percent higher, respectively.
“It is important to note that the fee increase is not related to usage,” Page said in a Nov. 4 letter to Lamoille County legislators, select boards and town administrators and managers. He asked them all to attend the Hyde Park Village Board of Trustees meeting Wednesday, after press deadline.
“It is the county’s position that the fee schedules that they have adopted are disproportionate, unreasonable and unfair,” Page wrote.
He and fellow assistant judge Madeline Motta are asking the trustees to change the fee schedule and make it “more reasonable,” and spread it out the other users. Page, who served more than three decades as Lamoille County state’s attorney before being elected assistant judge in 2014, did not rule out legal action.
Carol Robertson, the utility’s general manager, said she and the trustees did some “very, very difficult and very, very necessary” deliberating before coming up with the rate structures.
“The board approved fair and equitable structures,” Robertson said Tuesday.
Page said he sympathizes with the trustees’ plight. The $4.3 million water system upgrades were mandated by the state, which threatened sanctions if Hyde Park didn’t make the improvements. But, there are only 233 customers who use the utility, and they have to absorb capital improvement costs through the utility’s rate structure, since it doesn’t have taxing authority.
“They’re in a tough spot,” Page said over the phone Monday. “They basically committed to a water system upgrade they couldn’t afford.”
The new water rates affect every Lamoille County town, since all 10 towns pay a share of the county budget. That budget goes toward maintaining the courthouse and sheriff’s departments, among other things.
Since each town’s share of the budget is determined by the property grand list in each town, and Stowe makes up more than half the overall Lamoille County property value, it pays more than half of the county budget.
Stowe town manager Charles Safford said he’s seen other utilities make improvements and try and avoid sticking the bill with residential ratepayers, but nothing like what Hyde Park is doing. No one is arguing that Hyde Park shouldn’t have made the improvements, he said, but how the expense is being spread around.
He wasn’t sure if anyone from Stowe planned on attending Wednesday’s trustees meeting.
“It gives someone pause, from an equitability standpoint,” Safford said. “Stowe tries to stay out of other people’s business, but sometimes you make it our business.”