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Ratepayers in Glen Head call for public takeover of water company

Hundreds rallied in Glen Head on Saturday, Nov.

Hundreds rallied in Glen Head on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, to protest high water rates charged by New York American Water Company, which says the rates are largely because of property taxes the company must pay. Credit: Newsday / David Olson

Hundreds of New York American Water Co. customers angry at high water bills rallied in Glen Head on Saturday, calling for a public takeover of the Merrick-based company.

“What do we want? Public water! When do we want it? Now!” protesters chanted as they stood underneath the Glen Head water tower.

Agatha Nadel, an organizer of the protest, displayed a cardboard blowup of her latest monthly water bill, for $607.07.

“Having affordable water is not a choice,” she told the crowd. “It’s a right.”

Nadel said her monthly water costs have more than doubled since last year.

There have been previous protests over the past several months against New York American, but the push for a public takeover of the private company — a subsidiary of New Jersey-based American Water — has intensified in recent weeks, as residents have concluded it’s the only option to ensure rates are comparable to the much lower amounts in neighboring public water districts, Nadel said.

Protesters called on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to either create a new water district or merge the New York American service areas into existing, neighboring public districts. The company serves about 120,000 households and businesses in Nassau County, including in Glen Head, Sea Cliff, East Rockaway, Roosevelt, Bellmore and Merrick.

Cuomo spokeswoman Abbey Fashouer said in an email that “the state remains committed to ensuring access to clean, affordable drinking water for all New Yorkers and we are reviewing this important issue and assessing all options in that context.”

Some called for the Town of Oyster Bay to take over New York American. Supervisor Joseph Saladino, who spoke at the rally and is up for election to a first full term on Tuesday, said afterward that attorneys with the town are examining that option, as well as the option of the state creating public water districts.

Carmen Tierno, president of New York American, said in a statement that rising property taxes in its service area have led to the rate increases, and that taxes account for the large majority of many bills. He called for those taxes to be “reduced or eliminated.”

But Sea Cliff village administrator Bruce Kennedy said “the problem isn’t property taxes. It’s something else. It’s profit. Why is a company making a profit off of our basic human right?”

Glen Head resident Sandra Nightingale, 46, supports a public takeover. She said her family has stopped using lawn sprinklers and even travels to a Laundromat to wash clothes, because she said it’s cheaper than using their home’s water. But her latest bill was still $684.28.

“I feel like our hands are tied,” she said. “There’s nothing we can do.”

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