Landlords feel village water billing system is unfair; Potsdam officials plan to re-evaluate
BY ADAM ATKINSON
North Country This Week
POTSDAM — A planned re-evaluation of the village’s equivalent dwelling unit (EDU) system for billing water and sewer users could not come too soon for Potsdam landlords.
Several local apartment owners voiced concerns to the board of trustees at their meeting Tuesday, June 21. The landlords feel that the village’s water billing system is unfair and that it sacks them based on the EDU system the village adopted in 2018. The system, developed by the Development Authority of the North Country, bills village residents and landowners for the fixed costs of water and sewer service per EDU.The central complaint for the landlords is that commercial apartment buildings are billed for fixed water and sewer costs at one EDU per apartment, the same as an entire single family house using 120 gallons of water a day, even if the apartment is a single occupancy studio apartment.
At the meeting, Village Administrator Greg Thompson said the village is scheduling a re-evaluation of the EDU system with DANC in the next few days, which will involve implementing any suggested changes that need to be made.
Brian Wolofsky of Montreal, the owner of Swan Landing and Meadow East apartments, interjected from the gallery and asked if the DANC and village representatives would be inviting landlords to the meeting.
“That is for the board to discuss at a later date, sir,” Thompson said.
Wolofsky, long a critic of the board and village officials over their handling of the village water and sewer system and how the service is billed and handled financially, raised several these concerns with the board.
Wolofsky currently has an active lawsuit with the village over billing issues for his Meadow East apartments.
“This EDU does not work. Not because this system is not good. It’s actually a very good system. But the way you’ve implemented it, it is haphazard and without any thought,” Wolofsky said.
Wolofsky repeated that if the representative from DANC does meet with the village he would like the local landlords to be invited. “Because I have a crap-ton of stuff to say to her about what has been going wrong,” he said.
The owner of the Meadow East apartment complex said he is being charged $8,000 every quarter for fixed costs for village water based on 100 EDUs, one for every apartment in the complex. But, countered that if the village was to base the number of EDUs on the amount of water consumption, the way the DANC study on the process suggested, the cost would be based on between 44 and 53 EDUs instead.
“Which is precisely what I should be charged. And, if you were charging me the actual consumption the way the DANC study was written, we wouldn’t have a problem because all of us wouldn’t be so upset,” Wolofsky said.
He said the end result of the current system is that local landlords who care about the quality of their housing offerings will either be forced to increase rent costs to cover the high water bills or stop investing in their properties.
“And the last thing we want Potsdam to be is a village of slum lords,” Wolofsky said.
Another village landowner, Nick Zirn, said the water bill was a very real cost to apartment owners. He said taxes and water bills make up about 20 percent of the gross revenues he takes in.
“So there is a real concern there for us,” Zirn said. He suggested forming a joint committee with property owners and landlords to consult on the EDU issue.
Lynzie Schulte, owner of 51, 53, 55 and 57 Market Street, which houses her café Foster the Plant, three other sites commercial and 13 apartments, six of which are regular rental rate units and 7 which are affordable housing units, also spoke on the issue.
Schulte said the amount spent on water and sewer bills for the affordable housing apartments average about 14 percent monthly. She said overall, the fixed costs that she pays for all of the units she owns at the Market Street property, which includes the water and sewer averages 50 percent of her total revenues.
“Looking at the way the water and sewer billing is done right now, that’s the first step, just fixing how those costs are allocated,” Schulte said.
“That’s one thing to make living in the village of Potsdam sustainable. There are so many issues, water and sewer are just one, taxes are another,” she said.
Landlord William Penà sent comments in regarding the issue which were read by Village Trustee Monique Tirion.
“It is unfair that my studio and one bedroom apartments are being billed as a one family house. My small studios and one bedrooms only have one person residing in them. No way they are using 120 gallons a day. They should not be considered equivalent to a one family house,” Penà writes.
He said that he was fine paying his fair share but felt he was paying over and above his fair share and wants the village to change the billing process to make it more equitable for all property owners.