Nassau County Executive Laura Curran this week expressed concerns about the "unintended consequences" of a public takeover of New York American Water as the state finalizes a study examining the prospect.
At an event hosted by the Long Island Association on Wednesday, Curran became only the second elected official to express reservations about the takeover of New York American Water, which has faced years of backlash over soaring rates, investigations and water quality.
"I’m very concerned about any unintended consequences" of a public takeover, Curran said.
Public control of New York American Water could change the structure of how the water company pays taxes, since a publicly owned utility would be tax exempt. Several models offered by elected officials and municipal water systems contemplated so-called payments in lieu of taxes to fill the taxing gaps that might result from that tax-exempt status.
"I believe that any public takeover or municipalization of American Water needs to be closely studied and it needs to protect taxpayers," Curran said, adding that any such review would "have to look at all the details" of such a takeover.
Curran said she’s putting together a working group to "examine solutions."
"One size may not fit all," she said, "so we need to evaluate and identify the best options for our many communities."
New York American Water has said the best way forward for its 125,000 Nassau customers is to move ahead with its proposed $607 million sale to Liberty Utilities, arguing that a public takeover would saddle ratepayers with more debt and take years to resolve.
After the state Department of Public Service last year issued a call for proposals for a possible public takeover, three separate studies found the concept feasible. The Massapequa Water District has proposed taking on some 4,500 East Massapequa customers, the Village of Sea Cliff is exploring ways to take on another 4,500 North Shore customers, and a Hempstead Village study found taking on some 115,000 customers feasible, though Town Supervisor Don Clavin has said the debt load from such a deal would hamper town finances.
Last week, the Suffolk County Water Authority filed paperwork proposing to manage a newly created Nassau water authority that included all or part of New York American Water’s territory in Nassau.
The state’s review of a public takeover is expected to be completed by April 1.
A spokesman for Curran said her working group hasn't yet been formed and "there are no specifics yet."
With James T. Madore