WE NEED YOUR HELP — Support your hometown newspaper by making a donation.

New York American Water customers to receive credits after rate hikes

Utility must also appoint an independent monitor amid scrutiny

Posted

After a deal was reached between New York American Water and the state Public Service Commission over the weekend, ratepayers will receive credits on future bills after they skyrocketed in recent months.

The two sides announced the agreement on Saturday. Customers in the Lynbrook service area, which includes Baldwin, will receive credits retroactive to April and lasting through next March 31 — totaling $2.5 million for all affected residents.

Under NYAW’s billing system, customers are divided among four billing tiers — the Lynbrook service area is in the highest one. Those customers will receive a credit for the difference between the highest and second- highest tiers. The highest rate block will also be suspended for residential customers until March 31.

“We are fully committed to addressing the concerns of our customers, and this agreement will help provide prompt rate relief,” NYAW Deputy Chief Operating Officer William Varley said in a prepared statement. “We will continue to review every high bill complaint we have received. In addition, we look forward to collaborating with our customers to conduct a robust conservation study and rebate program.”

The deal also mandates the appointment of an independent monitor, who will review NYAW’s controls and processes “in an effort to help restore customer confidence,” the company said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo reportedly helped broker the agreement between the PSC and NYAW. Cuomo previously referred the matter to state Attorney General Barbara Underwood. A spokeswoman for state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli on July 31 also said his office was reviewing “some issues” related to NYAW.

“New York American Water thanks Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his leadership, as well as the Public Service Commission and the [Department of Public Service] for taking action to provide prompt relief to our customers through this agreement,” Varley said. “We remain unwavering in our dedication to providing clean, safe and reliable water services to the communities we serve.”

Schumer calls for GAO probe

On Monday, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer also called for the federal Government Accountability Office to look into NYAW and its eligibility to receive federal funding. “This is why we’re here,” Schumer said outside Glen Head resident Agatha Nadel’s home while holding up a sign showing a $1,300 bill from last summer. “The steady drip-drip-drip of dubious charges, rate hikes and bad billing demands enhanced scrutiny from the federal government.”

Schumer said that since New York’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund supported $68 million of the company’s long-term debt when it acquired Aqua Water in 2001, NYAW is eligible to potentially receive more federal dollars from both DWRF, as well as the Environmental Facilities Corporation via the same fund.

Schumer was joined by state and local leaders, including Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat from Baldwin, and County Comptroller Jack Schnirman, a Democrat from Long Beach. Curran and Schnirman each said that the utility will continue to be monitored to ensure this situation does not arise again. Curran said monitoring will ensure that the water is clean and easily affordable.

Residents, leaders react to agreement

The agreement between NYAW and PSC came after hundreds of NYAW ratepayers complained that their bills more than doubled, despite their efforts to conserve water. Varley, during a town hall hosted by NYAW and elected officials in East Rockaway on Aug. 9, admitted that customers could use less water than in previous years and still pay more under the new system. Bills are also affected by the utility’s taxes and the costs of its capital improvement projects, which increase rates even further for those in the Lynbrook service area.

The PSC approved rate hikes in June 2017, and utility officials said base rates (excluding surcharges and taxes) were only supposed to increase by 5 percent. But elected officials said they have heard from constituents who have seen rates jumped by as much as 135 percent.

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach, said in a statement that he received more than 500 complaints about “outrageous water bills.” Kaminsky said he was pleased by the agreement that the company reached with the PSC. “It’s great news that residents will get some much-needed relief,” he said. “Long Islanders only want to be treated fairly but continually feel like they are being gouged.”

Baldwinite Jack McCloy said, however, that it’s “too little, too late.” At the East Rockaway town hall, McCloy said he pays $106 for 11,000 gallons of water, while his mother pays $8.03 in South Huntington for the same amount. He, and others, have called for a public takeover of NYAW, which Cuomo did not rule out.

“My interest at that time and still now is, as I stated, to remove New York American Water from their monopolistic franchise,” McCloy said.

Assemblyman Brian Curran also spoke about the push to fix the problem. “I am happy that American Water heard the concerns of its customers about the excessive water bills under the new conservation payment scales and have decided to suspend them,” he said in a statement.

Advocacy group Long Island Clean Air Water and Soil, which is suing the PSC and NYAW over the raised rates, said in an email that it commends Cuomo for acting on some of its requests, but that “these are just baby steps.”

It continued its call for a public takeover of NYAW. Assemblywoman Christine Pellegrino, a Democrat from West Islip, last month announced her intent to have DiNapoli’s office fund a feasibility study to determine the most efficient means for a public takeover of the utility.