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Hempstead, Oyster Bay officials eye water company takeover

Town officials from Hempstead and Oyster Bay said Monday they want to reactivate a board that would study the feasibility of a takeover of Aqua New York Water, a private company that serves some communities in both towns.

Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray and Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto said efforts to re-establish the Southeastern Nassau Water Authority are in response to Aqua's request for rate increases. The company serves 44,000 customers in Bellmore, parts of Massapequa, Merrick, Wantagh, Seaford and parts of Levittown.

In September the company announced it was applying for rate increases of 12 percent for residential customers and 27 percent for fire district hydrants.

"It's all about saving Aqua Water customers money," Murray said of Monday's announcement. "We need to explore all options, including a public takeover of a private water company, to cut costs for water customers."

The New York State Public Service Commission, which must approve the rate hikes, has not yet made a decision.

The five-member Southeastern Nassau Water Authority, created through state legislation in 1991, was charged with studying the feasibility of a public takeover of the private water company, at that time New York Water Co. But in 1997 the authority voted to stop seeking a public takeover, saying "we didn't think the savings we could foresee would be worthwhile," and recommended that the State Legislature dissolve the body.

Murray said Monday she has "reached out to state legislators to enlist their support should new enabling legislation be needed."

Officials from both towns are accepting resumes from anyone interested in serving on a task force that would study reactivating the water authority.

"While the topic has been investigated before," Venditto said, "these tough economic times demand a fresh look at the issue."

Legis. Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick) applauded the move. He has been asking both towns since 2006 to look into a takeover of Aqua.

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