New York American Water announced on Monday that South Shore customers’ high water bills are the result of a recently approved conservation rate coupled with increased summer usage.
Under the new billing system, which took effect in April, the more water a customer uses, the higher the rate the customer is charged. In American Water’s analysis, a customer who uses 20,000 gallons and had a $145.42 bill in June 2017 would receive a $178.54 monthly bill this year.
“New York American Water appreciates that these conservation rate changes led to confusion regarding our customer billing rates,” William Varley, the utility’s deputy chief operating officer, said. “Our communications team will be executing a robust education effort to ensure customers are aware of the new conservation rates and the importance of protecting our water system.”
Varley also said that 10 of the more than 600 South Shore customers who complained about their bills had issues, such as leaks, that would cause higher-than-expected bills. Officials also denied that false readings from new water meters were to blame, noting that only five homeowners among the hundreds who complained had actually had the meters installed in the past year.
Bay Park resident Susan Kemmet was among the homeowners who complained. In June, she received a bill for $1,916, after a new meter was installed. She normally pays $28 to $48 a month for her one-bathroom home.
“We’re never spending that much money,” she said.
Kemmet’s husband, Joe, complained to NYAW, which sent them an updated bill in July, for $1,971, and asked if they would like to set up a payment plan. After several more complaints, the bill was eventually rescinded, and Kemmet paid only $45 for June and $54.43 for July.
“The mistake was when they put the new meter in, they got a false reading off the old meter,” Susan explained.
NYAW’s rate announcement came after local elected officials, including East Rockaway Mayor Bruno Romano, Lynbrook Mayor Alan Beach, State Assemblyman Brian Curran and Assemblywoman Melissa Miller met on Aug. 2 with utility President Carmen Tierno about NYAW’s internal investigation into its billing (see box).
At the meeting, lawmakers learned that NYAW’s internal investigation would be completed in phases. The first two have already been completed, which were confirming that the utility’s billing program was functioning properly and ensuring that there were no discrepancies between consumption rates and NYAW’s revenues.
Now, the utility is responding to each of the more than 600 complaints it received. Varley said that NYAW has reached out to every customer who submitted an inquiry, and that the utility is “committed to continuing to evaluate these, and resolving each individual complaint by the end of August.”
Finally, NYAW will seek to educate the public about the conservation rates and about a four-year rate increase that went into effect on June 1, 2017, which will increase its projected revenue by $3.6 million. This hike was approved to offset more than $136 million the utility spent on upgrading treatment and distribution facilities, according to a news release on NYAW’s website.
“That is a significant factor, I believe, and what American Water believes, for the rate increase that we’re seeing,” Curran, a Republican from Lynbrook, said.
However, the news release stated that “even with the increase, the cost of water service for customers remains about a penny per gallon.”
Curran also said that he, Romano, Beach and Miller would “continue to push for answers from New York American Water, or the PSC if we don’t get what we want to hear from New York American Water.”
Complaints about the utility can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Lynbrook Village Hall, at 1 Columbus Drive, Lynbrook, N.Y. 11563. But Beach asked residents to check their water bills before submitting complaints.
“Look at the amount of water that you used last year and this year and compare it,” he said.
A public hearing on the rate increases was scheduled for Aug. 9, at 7 p.m., at East Rockaway Junior-Senior High School, at 443 Ocean Ave. in East Rockaway.