After discussions with the New York Department of Public Service and in direct response to the coronavirus pandemic, New York American Water has once again postponed its previously approved rate increase, originally scheduled to go into effect April 1. In March, NYAW pushed the rate hike back to Sept. 1, and the company an-nounced late last month that it would postpone the in-crease once more, this time to Jan. 1.
A Sea Cliff Water District residence using 8,000 gallons of water per month will see a rate increase of roughly $3.77 per month come the new year. The district encompasses all of Sea Cliff, Glen Head and Glenwood Landing as well as parts of Glen Cove, Roslyn Harbor and Old Brookville.
“New York American Water has and continues to take several actions in response to the Covid-19 health emergency in addition to the postponement,” NYAW President Lynda DiMenna said in a statement. “The company has suspended the practice of shutting off water service due to nonpayment, and service has been restored to all customers whose service was previously discontinued for nonpayment. These decisions were made to continue to provide clean, safe, reliable water service for all customers during this public health emergency.”
State Assemblyman Michael Montesano, a Republican from Glen Head, said the postponement is helpful because residents tend to use more water during the summer months. But Montesano added that he had a problem with the increase being postponed rather than eliminated.
“I think it gives a temporary fix to some people’s budgets,” he said, “but eventually it’s going to come back and we’re going have to deal with it.”
In July, the State Senate passed a bill authored by Sen. Jim Gaughran, a Democrat from Northport, establishing the public North Shore Water Authority to replace NYAW, a private utility. Both Montesano and Assemblyman Charles Lavine, a Democrat from Glen Cove, said they planned to support the Assembly’s corresponding bill with only minor amendments.
If the bill passes through the Senate and Assembly, it will be sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his signature.
Agatha Nadel, the director of the public water advocacy group North Shore Concerned Citizens, said she, too, was happy about the rate increase postponement. Times have been hard for people on the North Shore since March, she said, so any relief for ratepayers is welcome.
Nadel added, however, that it is important to understand that the relief is temporary, and the rate increase is still coming. She said she was worried that extensions like this could distract attention from the issue of whether to eliminate private utilities.
“We are laser-focused, and the goal is the same: It’s the affordable public water,” Nadel said. “That’s what we want — that’s our number one goal.”
When NYAW announced plans to sell the rights to operate the Sea Cliff Water District to another private water company, Liberty Utilities, for roughly $608 million last November, the state Public Service Commission said it would allow hearings at which members of the public could voice their opinion on the sale. Hearings were supposed to start in the spring, but the coronavirus pandemic has prevented them from taking place.
The PSC also began accepting proposals for the creation of a public water authority in June, a process that is continuing.
Sea Cliff Village Administrator Bruce Kennedy, who is also the president of North Shore Concerned Citizens, said it would be “ridiculous” for NYAW to ask for a rate increase while proposals are still being sent to the PSC and before public hearings on the sale to Liberty can take place.
“I think that the Public Service Commission should simply freeze any and all proposed rate hikes until such a time that we’re through with the [hearings and proposals] and the concept of municipalization of the whole district [is considered],” Kennedy said.