In an uncommon move, New York American Water has temporarily halted sending out August water bills in the Long Island region as it works to get a handle on an avalanche of high-bill complaints, the company confirmed in a statement Wednesday night.
The move comes after more than 800 ratepayers, primarily on the South Shore, complained of skyrocketing bills, with most sent out for July. The state Department of Public Service, which attended a raucous meeting of angry ratepayers in East Rockaway last week, is reviewing the claims and conducting an investigation. In addition, the New York attorney general, the state and Nassau comptrollers and the Nassau district attorney’s office are all either investigating or reviewing customer complaints.
“New York American Water can confirm that we paused the distribution of bills for a few days as we continue to address customer concerns,” the company said in a statement in response to Newsday’s questions. “We are committed to reviewing and resolving each individual bill complaint.”
The company said it expects billing to resume “within the next few days.”
One utility watchdog said the action was unprecedented.
“I haven’t seen it done before,” said Richard Berkley, executive director of the watchdog group Public Utility Law Project in Albany. “This is a very strong sign of the company’s apparent inability to properly bill its customers and operate its system in the public interest.”
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), whose office has been fielding complaints, said customers “deserve to know what caused the precipitous price spikes [in July] and what remedies may be available to them before new, high bills are sent to customers, which will inflame an already frustrating and difficult situation.”
The company said last week that preliminary findings indicated high bills were the result of a new conservation rate. Residents and public officials have questioned that.
One customer who did receive an August bill, Ronnie Pinquist of East Rockaway, said she was still recovering from the shock of her $381 July bill when her August bill of nearly $490 arrived. That bill included a large unpaid balance from the previous month, she said.
“I’m living here 39 years and I never paid a water bill like this in my life,” Pinquist said. The August bill she received was $489.97, but she noted that could include charges from her July bill, which she didn’t fully pay. Her August bill last year was $120.
Separate from the South Shore matter, a state investigation in June revealed that New York American Water employees intended to deceive state regulators during rate-hike proceedings in 2016 that sent water bills soaring in the Sea Cliff region. Last week, the state Public Service Commission ordered the company to refund $292,804 to Sea Cliff district customers — just over $68 in credits per customer — as a result of the company’s “gross mishandling” of its property tax filings.