When Claudia Borecky, co-director of the Merrick-based Long Island Clean Air, Water and Soil, read over the State Assembly’s bill that creates a path for a public water authority, she knew it might not pan out, she said.
“I didn’t think it was going to be possible,” Borecky said, explaining that the bill’s goal to cap rate increases at 2 percent may be unconstitutional. “Those rates were determined years ago. They were postponing payments — they’re for costs already incurred by New York American Water.”
So, the years-long battle to form a municipal water provider to replace NYAW — which has been repeatedly criticized for its high rates — continues. Advocates, including LICAWS members, gathered at the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola on April 26 to decry a May 1 rate hike and to call on the State Senate to pass corresponding legislation to create a Nassau County Water Authority.
The Assembly quickly passed the legislation before May 1, but the rate hike was already passed on to customers. The 26 to 30 percent increase may appear on ratepayers’ next bill.
While the Assembly bill proposes capping both future rate increases and rates for expenses that have already been incurred, the Senate bill differs in that it aims to eliminate a special franchise tax the private company is obligated to pay. NYAW passes those additional costs on to its customers, creating an unequal burden that has been highlighted by both critics and the company’s representatives.
The Assembly bill would form a North and South Shore Water Authority, which Borecky also criticized for the way it would represent ratepayers. She said it would be too “North Shore-centric,” with six representatives from the North Shore and four from the Town of Hempstead. It would not include representatives of the villages that NYAW also serves, including Valley Stream and Lynbrook.
Borecky estimated that those six representatives would speak for roughly 5,000 North Shore residents, while the four others would speak for 114,000 residents in Hempstead alone.
On Monday, Assemblyman David McDonough, a Republican from Merrick, said that plans for further legislation are still “under discussion.”
“I want to see a matchup between the two bills,” McDonough said.
The Senate had originally included the legislation in the state budget, a move that was blocked in the Assembly. Senators pushed for the legislation after a study ordered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and conducted by the Department of Public Service reported that a public takeover of NYAW was not only feasible, but in residents’ best interests.
The study was conducted after the DPS halted the sale of NYAW to Liberty Utilities, another private entity, in November 2019 for $608 million to determine whether municipalization of NYAW’s New York operations would be more beneficial to ratepayers.
“All we’re asking for is clean, reliable and affordable water,” David Denenberg, co-director of LICAWS, said at the rally. “The average [NYAW] private water customer will see our bills go up almost $400 a year — that’s more than public water customers pay a year.”
“I thought we had our last rally,” Borecky said. “I just hope it’s the last summer of big bills.”