Anger over soaring water bills spilled out into the open in East Rockaway Thursday night as several hundred ratepayers jeered New York American Water officials and vowed to press for a public utility to provide their drinking water.
Three officials from the company’s parent American Water traveled to the meeting with a panel of lawmakers to assure customers that each of their complaints would be answered by an expanded team of representatives, who would visit every home.
“We’re taking this very seriously,” said Bill Varley, deputy chief operating officer, an Islip native who traveled from his Chicago office to attend the meeting at East Rockaway High School.
The executives attempted to offer explanations for high bills based on a new onservation rate and tips for conserving water.
Ratepayers, armed with findings from host, state Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) that 187 ratepayers saw bill spikes of over 50 percent, barraged the executives and state officials with questions and comments.
“We want this cancer out of here,” shouted Agatha Nadal, who in a statement called the company “un-American” Water, and took aim at Gov. Andrew M Cuomo and other officials for allowing rates to skyrocket.
“This is a wake-up call for every politician,” said Nadal, a member of the executive committee of North Shore Concerned Citizens, which is exploring ways to take the Sea Cliff water district public.
Cuomo on Friday said he has asked the state Attorney General to probe the rate increases.
AuoMarion Lish, brandishing an $808.01 water bill like a torch, finished a particularly caustic invective with the pledge, “I’m not paying this water bill until these guys are thrown the hell out.”
Catherine Lucey of Oceanside said she “almost” felt guilty coming to a complain about a water bill that "only spiked to $230 a month.”
“What you guys have done is so wrong,” Lucey shouted. “Your water is dirty, the pressure is awful, and customer service is great at blowing us off.”
Barbara Miller of North Woodmere said she didn’t believe new automated meters were properly transmitting her usage. Joyce Kane of East Rockaway took aim at the Public Service Commission and its Department of Public Service administrative arm for failing to “double check” the company’s rate hike request in 2016.
A PSC probe found property tax miscalculations by the company led to more than $290,000 in customer overcharges in Sea Cliff. The PSC ordered Thursday that customers get refunds amounting to just over $65 each, and is continuing enforcement actions.
The PSC “put a stamp on it,” Kane said to DPS officials. “If you say you didn’t you’re a liar. We need to get rid of you.”
Claudia Borecky, co-director of watchdog group, Long Island Clean Air, Water and Soil, which has led the charge for public water and filed suit to roll back the rate increases, questioned the company’s conservation rate as the cause for the increase. She noted the company has seen a 10-year decline in water use on Long Island regions that she said has lowered its revenues. “To say you’re doing this to help the aquifer is disingenuous,” she said.
Susan Nadler, an accountant from Oceanside, held up a placard borrowed from another speaker showing a South Huntington municipal water bill of $8.03 for a recent month compared with an American Water bill for $106,58, each for around 11,000 gallons. “How are others able to afford it at this cost and we’re paying an arm and a leg?”
Varley explained that infrastructure costs for system improvements were among the chief reasons for the rate hike.
, but a woman from Valley Stream took issue with it, arguing her $50 bill had doubled in recent months, while the quality of her water had rendered it undrinkable. She recently switched to bottled water to clear up health issues, she said.
Jane Finkelstein of Wantagh warned company and public officials that the evening’s tirade would not be the last if they didn’t address ratepayers demands. “It’s only going to get worse,” she said. “Something has to be done.”
By the time the meeting was over at nearly 10:45 p.m., company executives and public officials appeared exhausted and overwhelmed.
In closing remarks, Kaminsky public water was “something we have to consider . . . We’ve heard enough tonight to know that something has to be done.”
State Sen. John Brooks (D-Seaford) said American Water was, “either going to have to find ways to cut expenses or we’re going to have to cut them.”
DPS executive deputy Tom Congdon said, “What we heard tonight was very compelling, these impacts are very concerning.”
He was interrupted by Irwin Kotcher, who demanded to know “how you justify the rates they’ve given us when you said there was only a 5 percent increase in the base rate?”
Congdon said it was a “perfect storm” of an increased base rate, higher property tax surcharges, and conservation charges, atop higher usage that were “clearly having an impact and causing hardships.”