WATERLOO — Chuck Hinkel, owner of the Laundry Depot on Virginia Street, told the Village Board Monday that he’d have to do 700 more loads of wash a year to cover the proposed hike in his sewer bill.
That was part of his argument against the proposed 19-percent sewer rate increase from $8.38 to $9.98 per 1,000 gallons of water used.
While board members seemed sympathetic, the board voted 5-0 to approve the rate hike. It will go into effect June 1. The village water rate will remain at $5.25 per 1,000 gallons of water used.
“As a laundromat, my main product is water. I spent $13,400 for water and sewer last year. But I know of similar sized laundromats located elsewhere that pays $4,000 to $5,000 for those same bills,’’ Hinkel said.
“That’s also higher than my electric bills. That 19 percent increase will mean another $2,000 to me, which represents another 700 more wash loads to cover,’’ he said. Hinkel said he could hire two more part-time employees and has made more than $150,000 in upgrades over the past two years in an effort to be more efficient.
Hinkel said he’s added services such as car vacuuming and dry cleaning to improve business. He’s also installed more efficient washing machines.
“Now I question if I can keep this laundromat in the village. My margins are very tight and things like this make it even harder,’’ he said.
He said he’s one of 11 high volume water users who could be considered for a sliding scale for high use. But he said only users of 200,000 gallons or more get a discount. Hinkel cited his involvement in the community as a business owner and said he may have to cut back on his support for youth activities in light of the rate hike.
Mayor Jack O’Connor responded by saying the cost of running a wastewater treatment plant that meets state requirements is costly, and the sewer fund has been in a deficit, requiring the first rate hike in six years.
“If we give you and other high volume users a break, we still have to generate enough revenue to meet expenses, so others will have to make up the difference. If we give you a break, we’d have to give the other 10 high users the same break and that would slide down to others to make up,’’ O’Connor said.
“Would it be fair to make an 87-year-old Social Security recipient pay more? You knew what you were going to encounter when you bought the business,’’ O’Connor said.
“I don’t see how we can help you,’’ he added.
Hinkel said he reached out to state and federal legislators for help. O’Connor said the village has to get as many grants as it can to keep the rate hike to the lowest possible level. Treatment plant operator Bob Lotz said equipment for the plant is expensive, ranging from $68,000 to $500,000 to replace.
“I understand your concerns. Maybe we can do something in the future, but not now," O’Connor said.
Jeff Shipley, president of the Seneca County Chamber of Commerce, urged the board to give Hinkel’s concerns consideration before voting. Praising Hinkel’s business practices, Shipley warned against raising the sewer rate “too high, too fast" and suggested a compromise of a lower increase, saying the higher the rate, the less attractive the village would be for economic development.
“We’re not just throwing these numbers out there. We did a lot of research and analysis. This rate is needed to meet expenses. We can’t set it aside," O’Connor said.
Trustee Gina Suffredini commended Hinkel for taking the risk of taking over the business, saying she was a customer and can attest to the business as well-run and clean.
“But I also know the number for running the sewer plant. There’s no pot of gold for us dip into. We keep fighting for grants and maybe we can help Mr. Hinkel get a grant. We want to keep him here," she said.
“It is not our intention to shut you down,’’ O’Connor added. “We can’t help you now. If we can, we will. We can’t delay this."
Lotz said the village just completed a $6.5 million plant upgrade to meet state guidelines for discharge into the Cayuga-Seneca Canal.