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No "Water Bill" relief in sight for Canajoharie residents

By GARY LIBERATORE

CANAJOHARIE, N.Y. (WKTV) - The flood of 2006 in Canajoharie was tough enough for village residents back then, but now, the flood is hitting home again, four years later indirectly in the form of much higher water and sewer bills.

After the flood in June 2006, Beech-Nut Company executives decided they did not want to operate in a flood plain anymore, so they decided to move. Instead of building a new plant in Canjoharie, the baby food giant recently opened up a new plant 25 miles east, still in Montgomery County in the Town of Florida, and are in the process of moving all of its operations there by January 2011.

The company uses over one million gallons of water a day at its Canajoharie plant. To help keep Beech-Nut in town, the village made millions of dollars in improvements to its water and sewer systems in the late 1990's. The village took out low interest loans to pay for the improvements. The money to pay for those loans comes from the water and sewer bills of residents and businesses, including Beech-Nut.

According to Canajoharie Mayor Leigh Fuller, Beech-Nut uses 81 percent of the village's water and sewer services, and thus pays 81 percent of the money used to repay the improvement loans. Now that Beech-Nut is moving, residents and other businesses will have to make up the difference to help pay for the $2.5 million left on the loans.

Here's how it breaks down, when it comes to residents paying for Beech-Nut's move, each resident on average will pay an extra $1,047 a year for water, an extra $1,540 for sewer and about $120 a year in taxes for the taxes that Beech-Nut will no longer be paying, for a grand total of about $2,700 per year.

Canajoharie resident John Errigo says it is going to be tough for him to come up with that much money each year, "it's gonna be tough, it's gonna be tough for a lot of residents here. Now we're stuck with a plant that can produce way more water than we could ever use, and don't know what they're going to do."

Errigo believes a lot of homeowners won't be able to afford the increase and try to sell their homes, "oh there's going to a hundred houses for sale, I mean they're popping up all over and a lot of those that can't sell, they just pack up and move away and let it sit, and then you have abandoned homes."

Mayor Fuller says he has tried to market the Beech-Nut site to other businesses including bottled water companies, but so far, no luck. He says village officials in charge during the time the improvements to the water and sewer systems were made were so sure Beech-Nut would never leave, they never put any safety measurements in the process to call for Beech-Nut to help pay for any outstanding loans if they were to leave before the loans were paid off. Fuller says, "somehow, years past, that has sneaked through a hole and no one protected the village if Beech-Nut ever left us."

Fuller says water and sewer bills went up on June 1st, and actually more than doubled, but could have actually tripled, if it wasn't for a loan extension. Fuller says the Environmental Finance Corporation granted the village an extension of the loan for 10 years, interest free.

So instead of paying triple the bill for nine years, residents and businesses will pay double the bill for 19. The loan now will be paid off in 2029, instead of 2019. Fuller says rates were raised on June 1st from $9.48 per 1000 gallons of water used to $19.17 per 1000 gallons. The rate would have risen to $27.00 per 1000 gallons if the loan extension was not granted.

Fuller says any tax increase to make up for lost tax revenue from Beech-Nut leaving would have to be passed by the village board.

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