Water-rate relief bills to aid ratepayers in Sea Cliff, Glen Head die in Assembly

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After passing the State Senate, bills that would have provided relief to Sea Cliff and Glen Head homeowners who have been hit with high water bills died recently in committee in the Assembly.

The measures, originally proposed by Sen. Carl Marcellino, a Republican from Syosset, would have required an independent audit of New York American Water, given a tax credit to homeowners suffering because of their water bills and studied the feasibility of replacing NYAW with the Jericho Water District.

Assemblyman Michael Montesano, a Republican from Glen Head, said the tax credit bill died in the Ways and Means Committee in June. A March amendment to the measure would have also required a feasibility study, conducted by the Public Service Commission. Assembly members said the state should not have to fund the study because “it was a local issue,” according to Montesano.

“There were concerns as to whether that bill was ready for consideration,” said Assemblyman Charles Lavine, a Democrat from Glen Cove, of the tax credit. “A bill like that has to be part of the [state] budget.”

Because of rate increases authorized by the PSC in May 2017, local residents have seen their annual bills jump by more than $200.

“The bills that were submitted, while well intentioned, did not offer a solution to the immediate crisis,” Lavine said, “but they were constructive in getting [NYAW’s] attention.”

Agatha Nadel, of Glen Head, is a member of North Shore Concerned Citizens, whose mission is to remove NYAW as the community’s local water provider. She said she was disappointed that Marcellino’s bill did not pass the Assembly, but she was not surprised. “The good that came out of it was that the dedicated citizens and leaders in our group are electrified and energized to fight this to the end,” Nadel said. “They’ve awakened a sleeping giant.”

Nadel said that her group is focused on getting the feasibility study to potentially take over NYAW. “We’re researching other ways to get a truly independent feasibility study without the PSC’s input,” she said.

She added that the group has considered a long-term solution as well: forming an independent water authority in place of NYAW. Wainscott, in the Town of East Hampton, recently created its own district. After perfluorinated compounds were found to have contaminated 141 private wells there, the town board voted in May to create a water district to bring public water to the area through the Suffolk County Water Authority.

“It was done through grants and bonds,” Nadel said. Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino “could be a big hero here.”

Lavine said that Oyster Bay would have to take over NYAW locally by right of eminent domain to create an authority, which would require funding that would have to be bonded.

In the short term, Lavine said, he plans to hold meetings with local government representatives, civic association leaders and NYAW officials to open lines of communication. “We need to force NYAW to be a responsible corporate citizen and try our best to figure out how to make sure our ratepayers aren’t abused,” he said.

The results of the State Department of Public Service’s investigation into NYAW’s practices were released last Friday (see box). A statement from the company in response to the findings said that NYAW had a “proactive three-point plan to enhance accounting and reporting controls, engage the community, and educate customers.”

Additionally, the company is making sure Sea Cliff ratepayers are “appropriately reimbursed for the tax accounting error” that led to a collective overcharge of roughly $281,000.

“We are committed to rebuilding our relationship with our customers in our North Shore/Sea Cliff district, the Public Service Commission leaders and staff, as well as other appropriate stakeholders,” the statement read.