In response to the coronavirus pandemic, New York American Water announced on March 25 that it is postponing its scheduled April 1 rate hike until Sept. 1. The rate hike would see households in the North Shore Water District using 8,000 gallons of water per month have a bill increase from $76.89 to $80.35. A household using 20,000 gallons of water per month would have an increase of $196.49 to $207.91.
Members of North Shore Concerned Citizens, a public water advocacy group focusing heavily on removing NYAW’s presence from the North Shore, were generally relieved to hear about the rate hike postponement. NSCC Director Agatha Nadel said she believed the postponement was influenced by the state government through actions such as state Sen. Jim Gaughran’s directive that the company not hike up rates.
Nadel said she had spent much of early March sending letters to the PSC and state officials, asking them to delay the rate hike. She said the action taken by the PSC and Governor Andrew Cuomo in influencing the postponement was “wonderful,” as a rate hike taking place during the pandemic would have been awful.
“This is a time where the community and everyone in this country really has to come together,” Nadel said. “It’s a time where people have to be put ahead of profit and ahead of corporations' gains.”
It would not be fair for ratepayers to have to worry about an increasing water bill, said NSCC President Bruce Kennedy, and it was important for NYAW to recognize the hardships many ratepayers are likely facing.
“I feel it was the only right thing to do at this point,” he said. “Not only are we dealing with a health emergency, but we’re also dealing with a potential economic crisis right now.”
Another factor coming into play with this pandemic is NYAW’s potential sale of its Long Island water districts, including North Shore, Lynbrook and Merrick, to Liberty Utilities for $608 million, which was announced in November. Public hearings on the sale were expected to start this spring, and several residents said they planned on attending to voice their opposition to another private entity taking over their water instead of their establishment of a public water entity.
With a societal concentration on social-distancing and Cuomo’s ban on gatherings of more than 50 people, public hearings would not be possible. Kennedy said these hearings were guaranteed by the PSC to ratepayers in affected districts, and he said he would demand that the PSC hold off any hearings until it is safe for people to gather in groups again.
“You cannot allow the public’s voice to not be heard,” Nadel said. “This sale could not be pushed through just because of this pandemic. That would be the lowest of the low.”
“If the PSC uses the coronavirus as a mechanism to not grant public hearings on the proposed sale to Liberty and rubber-stamp the sale through,” she later added, “it would be deceptive and reprehensible. Everything in the world is put on hold and being delayed right now — if necessary, this should be too. The voice of the people must be heard.”