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Customers air grievances in Glen Head over surging water rates

Agatha Nadel, of Glen Head, questions New York

Agatha Nadel, of Glen Head, questions New York American Water Co. about her high water bills at a civic association meeting at North Shore Middle School on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017 in Glen Head. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Angry water customers crowded into a Glen Head middle school Wednesday night, with some demanding a private provider cut their monthly bills and others urging lawmakers to approve a public utility to drive down rates.

Janet Pucciarelli, 90, of Glen Head, lives alone and hardly uses her dishwasher and does laundry only once a week, she said at the community meeting. Pucciarelli said she has a sprinkler system for her small property but recently her monthly water bill spiked from an average of about $200 to $745.16 for her latest bill.

In May, the New York State Public Service Commission, a state agency that regulates utilities, allowed New York American Water to raise customers’ rates for four years beginning this year. The annual increases range from 1 percent to as high as 9.6 percent, bringing in a total of $46.6 million from 2017 to 2020, according to the commission.

New York American Water, a private company that services 120,000 households and businesses in Nassau, including customers in Glen Head and neighboring Sea Cliff, as well as East Rockaway, Roosevelt, Bellmore and parts of Merrick, among other communities, pays property taxes and passes those costs on to the ratepayers.

Nassau residents who buy water from municipally owned water districts, which are exempted from paying property taxes, enjoy significantly lower bills, officials said.

Company president Carmen Tierno, who attended the meeting, said beforehand that the Merrick-based water provider understands “the frustration of customers out there. More than 70 percent of their bills are composed of property taxes.”

That’s the main problem, said many among the hundreds gathered at North Shore Middle School.

“In my opinion, no private, corporate monopoly should be controlling a basic human right,” said Agatha Nadel, 54, of Glen Head, adding that her latest water bill was $706.95 for 29 days, between June 22 and July 20. Of that, Nadel said, only $317.23 was for water usage. The remainder was for taxes and surcharges.

“This is a violation of our constitutional rights,” Nadel said at the meeting.

For three preceding months, she said, the company billed her quarterly. Nadel said that from March 7 to June 21, the water company billed her $534.35.

Nadel urged state, county and local lawmakers to dissolve New York American Water and turn the operations into a public water utility.

“Because if you don’t think it can get worse,” she said, “you’re sadly mistaken.”

Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), among several state and local lawmakers who attended Wednesday night’s meeting, said afterward that he and his colleagues in Albany need to “draft some legislation that’s going to stop this from happening.”

Lavine said he and other legislators will band together and urge the water company and the Public Service Commission to roll back the rates.

“All I can guarantee you is, we will be heard,” he said.

Some Nassau residential customers of New York American Water said they saw increases in their bills at the start of the summer — considerably larger in some neighborhoods.

The average household in Sea Cliff uses about 8,000 gallons a month, Tierno said. The average bill is $110 a month, but he said only $32 of that goes to pay for operations and maintenance. The remaining $78 goes to pay property taxes levied by various entities, including Nassau County, towns and school districts.

David Denenberg, director of the advocacy group Long Island Clean Air Water and Soil and a former Nassau County legislator who lives in Merrick, said his latest monthly water bill is $264.59, and 40 percent to 55 percent of that goes to pay property taxes.

“It’s an unfair burden,” Denenberg said before the meeting.

His group is raising money from residents to challenge state regulators’ latest rate increases in court. And, he said the group plans to file a class-action lawsuit against the Public Service Commission and New York American Water.

The average household in Sea Cliff uses about 8,000 gallons a month.

The average bill is $110 a month, however only $32 of that goes to pay for operations and maintenance.

The remaining $78 goes to pay property taxes levied by various entities, including Nassau County, towns and school districts.

Source: New York American Water

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