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Activists: Amend state law to lower water bills

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New York American Water ratepayers and members of the activist group Long Island Clean Air Water and Soil are seeking an amendment to a section of state law that exempts many, though not all, private water companies from paying property taxes. If the law were amended, they contend, NYAW ratepayers’ water bills would drop precipitously.

Section 485-D of state law, which passed in 1985, exempts water companies that are regulated by the state Public Service Commission, and that operate in cities of more than a million people, from paying property taxes. The law, however, does not apply to counties. Thus, a Nassau County-based water company like NYAW must pay property taxes, and that expense is passed on to ratepayers.

David Denenberg, of Merrick, a former county legislator, LICAWS founder and NYAW ratepayer, and representatives of Stop Taxing Our Water held a news conference outside the Theodore Roosevelt County Executive and Legislative Building on Nov. 16, where they called on state lawmakers to exempt water companies in high-population counties from paying property taxes.

LICAWS also sent letters to members of the State Senate, Assembly and County Legislature, calling on them to seek an amendment to the law that would exempt water companies in such counties.

Speaking of the taxes and surcharges that NYAW ratepayers are charged, Agatha Nadel, a Glen Head community activist, said, “It’s unsustainable. The politicians knew what was going to happen and how high the rates were. This should not be.”

Lawrence Ruisi, of Glen Head, displayed his $1,000 July water bill at the news conference. Taxes and surcharges accounted for $512 of it. “It will be dangerous to the community if we’re not careful or plugged in to this issue,” Ruisi said. “These bills are simply too much, and not what we expect or can afford.”

Claudia Borecky, of Merrick, a LICAWS founder and NYAW ratepayer, added, “It’s mind-boggling that this law was already in place while people have been demanding an end to the property tax on our water.”

NYAW President Carmen Tierno said in a prepared statement, “New York American Water is aware of this law and would fully support legislation to amend it.”

Tierno added that exempting water companies in large counties from paying property taxes would lower ratepayers’ bills significantly. “If there were no taxes to be collected by the company, customers would see an approximately 30 to 70 percent reduction in their water bills, depending on their service location,” he said.

“I want legislators to get in the room and do it,” Nadel said. “I don’t want to hear about the bureaucratic red tape.”

Last week, Assemblyman Michael Montesano, a Republican from Glen Head, said he would prepare legislation to amend the property-tax law. “I’ve already drafted legislation and I’m waiting for a bill number to be assigned,” he said. “The taxing authorities — counties, towns and school districts — “will have to opt into this, however. Even if we are successful, they still have to give up the tax money.”