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Schumer vows to fight Aqua New York's proposed rate hike

Sen. Charles Schumer vowed Monday to fight a rate hike proposed by the private water company that serves 45,000 customers in Nassau County - residents who he says pay as much as five times the rate of neighbors served by public water districts.

Schumer (D-N.Y.), joined by Nassau Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick) outside the home of a Merrick civic leader, said he would call state Public Service Commission chairman Garry A. Brown to urge him to reject the hikes sought by Aqua New York.

Aqua, which took over New York Water Corp. in a $51-million deal in January 2007, wants a 12 percent increase in the base rate for residences and 27 percent for fire district hydrants.

Schumer urged the PSC to conduct an audit to determine whether Aqua had lived up to its promises of system improvements and a two-year rate freeze, which is scheduled to end Dec. 31.

"A rate hike is premature and not in the spirit of the original takeover where Aqua said rates would go down," he said.

Aqua has said the rate increases would raise $3.5 million to help fund $15 million in capital improvements necessary for water quality and reliability. Communities served by Aqua include Bellmore, Wantagh, Seaford and parts of Levittown.

Schumer said residents have told him that water service and quality haven't improved since Aqua bought the system. He said the PSC, which has held four public hearings on the proposed increase on Long Island, should not allow "any rate hikes to go through before the company has clearly demonstrated it is following through on improving service."

Aqua spokeswoman Donna Alston said the company has already upgraded five treatment facilities and installed a radio frequency metering system.

Alston said a 3.5 percent surcharge the company imposed a few months after acquiring the company had been requested by New York Water to recoup the costs of two iron removal plants and got PSC approval in 2005. By the time the surcharge was instituted - after the plants were built and operating - Aqua was in charge, she said.

But Schumer characterized the surcharge as an "end-run" by Aqua to get around the acquisition agreement to freeze rates.

The company has not instituted a second surcharge approved by the PSC as part of the acquisition, Alston said.

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