WESTERN NEW YORK - It's a phenomenon that has occurred all over the region, all the way north to Clarence and all the way south to Concord.
Ten towns, cities and villages in Western New York have given the Erie County Water Authority full control over their water usage since 1999: Depew, Clarence, Lancaster, City of Tonawanda, Concord, parts of Orchard Park, Hamburg, Blasdell, Evans and Alden. Three others are exploring the idea with the ECWA, including the Village of Williamsville, which will soon make the official transition. The perks are obvious. The county has more resources, more manpower and a greater ability to fix problems at a faster rate. In many cases, they are paying off debt-- some created by what audits have referred to as mismanagement.
Except the mergers are causing a little collateral damage to a certain demographic.
"Unfortunately, the people who don't use as much water, they're probably going to feel this the most," said Keith Dash, the supervisor of the Town of Evans.
This means the elderly. Single people. New families. All of these demographics typically use lower amounts of water than other people, which becomes a problem when they live in towns or villages occupied by the ECWA. The ECWA charges $2.89 per 1,000 gallons for a minimum usage of 9,000 gallons.
People who use 9,000 gallons per quarter pay for 9,000 gallons.
And people who use 3,000 gallons per quarter pay for 9,000 gallons, too.
The Town of Evans just switched to ECWA control this month, causing residents to flood 2 On Your Side's Facebook page and tiplines with complaints about how their bills had doubled in some instances, combined with the new minimum and the surcharge enacted by the city.
Blasdell merged with ECWA in 2011, creating the same effect for people who use fewer than 9,000 gallons.
"We have to do what's best for the most people in the village. The majority," said Mayor Michael Petrie.
The Town of Evans partly gave up control to the ECWA because government mismanagement over the course of more than a decade had placed it in a 16-million-dollar hole. An audit criticized the town's handling of the water fund -- Dash even said, "the audit is correct" -- and the surcharge from the ECWA merger will now pay that debt off.
In Blasdell, a similar situation occurred. An audit blasted the town for digging itself into too much debt, and it also enacted a surcharge to pay off the debt. Petrie said the prior administration was in a "tough spot" financially during the course of that audit.
"It's going to take some time," Petrie said, "but over time, as that debt starts to get paid off, that payment is going to start to drop."