American Water rate increase debated in Albany

Fate of rate hike remains unknown


Nassau County residents have been challenging New York American Water over rates, service quality and transparency since the company proposed a rate increase in June 2016. On March 8, the Public Service Commission held an evidentiary hearing with New York American Water and its ratepayers in Albany, allowing attendees another opportunity to make their concerns known.

The fate of the rate increase remains unknown for the time being.

The forum allowed attendees to question the PSC and NYAW about the increase, which now belongs to a joint proposal between both bodies. Issues addressed include NYAW’s proposed 8.3 percent rate increase and its decision to distribute 50 percent of a $1 million property tax reimbursement toward its shareholders and attorneys.

Nassau County Legislator Steve Rhoads (R, D-9) has opposed NYAW’s decision to increase its rates since the company’s initial proposal in June 2016. He wrote a letter to the PSC detailing why he was against the joint proposal. In addition to arguing that NYAW was unfair in requesting a rate increase, Rhoads wrote that the process of opposing it had been more complicated than he felt necessary. “There was no attempt to provide the information in a way that can be understood by people who are unfamiliar with terminology used by the commission in this industry,” Rhoads wrote.

“It’s so difficult to tell how [the hearing] went,” said Long Island Clean Air, Water and Soil co-founder Claudia Borecky, who had helped organize multiple protests outside of NYAW’s office building in Merrick since its initial proposal. Boreky said that she had several questions for both the PSC and NYAW. She asked why NYAW filed a tax grievance to receive a $1 million property tax reimbursement, if it was possible to bill ratepayers bi-monthly as opposed to monthly and, ultimately, why NYAW must raise its rates.

“[NYAW and the PSC] answered a lot of our questions, but not others,” Borecky said. She gathered that the company has an incentive to file a tax grievance because it receives a percentage of the refund. This refund could go toward services such as its shareholders and attorneys, in addition to projects that will benefit the ratepayers. The Public Service Commission requires New York American Water to bill its ratepayers monthly.

In an official statement from Carmen Tierno, the president of New York American Water, he wrote that the rate hike is necessary to maintain the company’s operations and ability to provide “clean, safe, reliable and affordable” water to its ratepayers. By increasing rates, NYAW can fund projects that improve the quality of its water. “We are committed to finding the best possible solutions for our costumers,” wrote Tierno. “We will continue handling each step of this comprehensive and robust process as transparently as possible.

NYAW and the PSC are still in the process of deliberating whether the company will raise its customer’s rates.