Ratepayers in Sea Cliff, Glen Head seek criminal charges against NYAW

Local group is also contemplating formation of water authority to oust company

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The North Shore Concerned Citizens group, whose mission is removing New York American Water as the community’s water provider is calling on the state attorney general and Nassau County’s district attorney to press charges against the company after a recent Public Service Commission report found the company intended “to deceive” ratepayers.

The report came after an investigation into the company’s practices, which began last December after NYAW failed to disclose accurate property value assessments that would have lowered water bills for more than 4,000 customers in Sea Cliff and Glen Head.

The release of the PSC report followed news that two bills, intended to provide rate relief for Sea Cliff customers, failed to pass the state Assembly.

“Everything’s coming to a head for us to make the change we want to see and solve the water problem in our community,” said Lawrence Ruisi, an executive member of NSCC. “The report gave us the leverage we need to get [NYAW] out of here and condemn them, while the group works to find a solution to replace them.”

Calls for legal action

One solution, Ruisi said, is to “aggressively seek charges against the water company.”

In a July 2 statement, Assemblyman Michael Montesano, a Republican from Glen Head, called for Attorney General Barbara Underwood and Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas to “launch a criminal investigation...to ensure this company, and the responsible employees, are held accountable for these actions.”

A week after the PSC report was released, Singas’s office announced that it would review complaints against NYAW. Miriam Sholder, a spokeswoman for Singas, said, “We’ve received calls from the public and are reviewing the allegations.”

NYAW released a statement in light of the D.A.’s announcement: “We do not comment on potential or pending legal matters.”

According to the PSC report, NYAW “mismatched” the transfer of asset data when it acquired Aqua Water in 2012, which caused errors in asset valuation, significantly increasing the calculation of annual property tax. When NYAW discovered the errors internally in 2013, it did not inform the Tax Assessment Service, and at a March 2017 hearing, attributed the high property taxes, rather, to the closure of the LIPA Glenwood Power Plant.

Ruisi said that the charges, coupled with the results of the report, could push the state closer to condemning NYAW in the Sea Cliff district. Village Administrator Bruce Kennedy, who also sits on NSCC’s executive committee, said that Gov. Andrew Cuomo “has to have our backs.”

“Everything that we’ve said [about the company] has come to light to be true,” Kennedy said at a July 5 meeting. “It was obvious back then that the numbers were falsified.”

Re-drafting legislation

Members also discussed submitting a draft of a bill — written by the group’s legal committee — to state legislators for consideration next session in January. Sea Cliff resident James Versocki, who sits on the committee, said the bill would give the state Legislature the power to create a local water authority.

“One of the ways that we will need to take back the water supply is to have an entity responsible for providing municipal water,” Versocki said. “The bills introduced weren’t what we needed, but we expect nothing less from our local leaders as well as our Albany leaders to get appropriate legislation for a water authority as well as funding for a feasibility study.”

The question of a feasibility study was first raised in February, when local civic and elected officials met with commissioners from the Jericho Water District to plead a case for consolidation in the event that the state removes NYAW from the area. Jericho’s commissioners said that since the district is a government entity, they are not authorized to expend private funds on such a study.

NSCC has consulted a handful of firms who specialize in assessing the valuations of water companies to determine how much an independent feasibility study would cost. Ruisi said the estimates are $50,000 to $70,000.

“We’re continuing to work with local legislators in securing money to conduct a feasibility study,” Ruisi said. “We need to get this done.”

The group has received support fromstate Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Oyster Bay) and Assemblymen Montesano and Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove). Versocki said he expects that support to continue. “It is an election year,” he said. “We don’t expect platitudes. We expect results.”