Residents will soon get two chances to comment on an 8.3 percent rate hike proposed by New York American Water, a private water company that supplies communities across the South Shore.
The New York State Department of Public Service, which oversees the Public Service Commission, has scheduled public hearings in Malverne and Wantagh on Oct. 26.
The Malverne meeting, which was announced by Mayor Patti Ann McDonald at the Oct. 5 board meeting, will be held at Village Hall at 1 p.m. The Wantagh meeting will take place in Wantagh High School’s auditorium at 7 p.m.
“If anyone has anything they want to comment on in regard to the raising of these rates, I strongly advise you to come,” McDonald said.
An hour has been set aside for each of the forums, but they will remain open until everyone wishing to speak has been heard, according to the Department of Public Service. Those who cannot attend or do not want to speak publicly can go to www.dps.ny.gov, search for case number 16-W-0259 and offer a written statement. A toll-free number, (800) 335-2120, has also been set up to accept statements. All comments must be in by Nov. 4.
Nassau County Legislator Siela Bynoe, who represents the 2nd District, said that a rate increase at this point is difficult to comprehend. “I understand that the water company is currently investing greatly in our community,” she said, “but I think it’s kind of hard to wrap your mind around a rate increase at a time when many families are challenged to get quality water to cook, wash clothes, bathe their children and to drink. I’ve read recently that it’s even had an impact on families having the chance to swim in their pools.”
Residents across the South Shore, particularly in Bellmore-Merrick, have spoken out against the rate hike, calling it exorbitant. For their part, American Water officials say the increase is needed to fund infrastructure repairs and improvements, and they have submitted evidence to the PSC, they say, to justify the hike.
“Over the last four years, New York American Water has made significant improvements to replace aging infrastructure and improve water quality for our customers,” company President Brian Bruce said.
County Legislator Steve Rhoads, a Republican from Bellmore, is among the elected leaders who have concerns about the rate increase. “The proposed increase in rates would generate [millions] in revenue for the private company, which already charges its customers substantially more for water than public water districts in surrounding communities,” Rhoads said, adding that East Meadow, for example, is served by a Town of Hempstead water district, and water bills there are reportedly half of what they are in areas served by New York American Water.
That, in part, explains why a group of residents, led by Claudia Borecky, the North and Central Merrick Civic Association president, formed Long Island Clean Air Water and Soil to fight the rate hike.
“If we had public water, this wouldn’t even be an issue,” Borecky said. “A town or water district is subject to a state tax cap. A private company is not. We are requesting time to prepare our case on behalf of the ratepayers.” According to a statement from the LICAW, the proposed rate hike would increase customer water bills by almost 10 percent.
New York American Water, a subsidiary of American Water, is the largest investor-owned water company in New York, providing water and wastewater services to about 350,000 people across the state. Nationwide, the company serves 15 million people in 47 states and Ontario, Canada.
New York American Water filed with the PSC for the rate increase in April to raise revenue by $8.49 million, while adding $150 million for infrastructure projects to improve water quality and service reliability, according to company officials.
“We are committed to making necessary investments in water service, while being prudent with our operational costs,” Bruce said. “Our customers’ water bills will continue to be among the lowest of their household utilities, even if the proposed rates go into effect.”
According to American Water officials, proposed infrastructure projects are driving the rate increase, including the completion of two iron-removal treatment facilities in Roosevelt and Lakeview. An iron-removal treatment plant is also under construction off Cornwell Avenue in Malverne.