For more than a decade, it was one of the best deals on Long Island: Huntington’s Greenlawn Water District charged the six fire districts that overlap its borders $1 per year to rent each district hydrant they used.
But water district officials announced this spring that the near-free ride was ending. Starting next year, they propose to hike the rent to $25. Fire commissioners greeted the proposal tepidly.
“I find it hard to swallow,” said Commissioner Patrick Fazio of the Commack Fire District, which rents about 500 hydrants from Greenlawn and faces a roughly $12,000 increase next year, according to the rates in a May 27 Greenlawn proposal. “Why should the fire districts take it out of our tax base?”
Centerport, Dix Hills and Greenlawn fire districts have accepted the increase. Commack, East Northport and Huntington Manor have yet to act.
To keep rent low, Greenlawn did hydrant maintenance but left hydrant testing to the fire districts. In its four-year rental proposal, the fire districts will continue testing. For the last three years of the agreement they will paint one third of the hydrants using water district paint.
The proposed hike comes as Greenlawn, like many New York State water suppliers, faces treatment costs for “forever chemicals” like 1,4-dioxane, Greenlawn Superintendent Robert Santoriello said. They include a nearly finished $5.4 million Huntsman Lane well project, with two similar projects proposed elsewhere.
“Our board of commissioners said, ‘We’ve got to look at rates and sources of revenue,’” Santoriello said. The $25 rent is still “very cheap when compared with other water suppliers.”
Suffolk County Water Authority, the nation’s largest groundwater supplier, owns 36,000 hydrants and charges $160.20 rent. That sum, unchanged since 2003, covers “unmetered water use, as well as inspection and maintenance,” a spokesman said. For-profit Liberty Utilities, a major Nassau County supplier, did not respond to requests for comment.
South Farmingdale Water District charges $70 rent. That includes semiannual flushing and maintenance, and the arrangement works, said Superintendent Frank Koch. “We know how to maintain a water distribution system, firefighters know how to fight fires.”
Long Island's more than 83,000 fire hydrants mostly draw from buried mains. Most belong to water providers, not fire departments or the fire districts that oversee those departments. As revenue generators, they tend to be dependable but slight. Even with the increase, rent from Greenlawn’s 1,300 hydrants would account for just .5% of its revenue from water sales, taxes and other sources; SCWA’s $6.15 million in hydrant revenue accounts for roughly 2% of its total.
In the early 19th and 20th centuries, when towns and villages paid a yearly sum for water service to private companies that did not always have the capacity to supply it, hydrant rental was sometimes front page news. “Village Fathers May Withhold Hydrant Rental From Water Co.,” read one 1932 headline in a Northport newspaper.
In 1972, Newsday quoted then-Hempstead Town Supervisor Alfonse D’Amato steaming over a proposed 30% increase in rentals charged by Long Island Water: “Absolutely shocking, reprehensible.”
Said Centerport commission chairman Andrew Stevenson this week: "We chalked it up to being the cost of business."
Fazio said Commack, with a $5.1 million budget, faced $120,000 in SCWA rent in addition to Greenlawn rents as other costs — fuel, insurance, even licensing fees for radios — climb. "You're talking real money," he said.