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State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to review American Water issues

The Long Island headquaters of New York American

The Long Island headquaters of New York American Water in Merrick is seen July 3. Credit: Danielle Silverman

Amid new customer complaints over spiking water bills, state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's office said Tuesday it plans to review "some of the issues" surrounding New York American Water.

Weeks after the state Department of Public Service released a report that found company employees sought to deceive state regulators during rate-hike proceedings in 2016, New York American Water is grappling with more than 300 new complaints from South Shore residents who have seen bill hikes in recent weeks.

One of them, Sue Kemmet of East Rockaway, said she received a bill for $1,916.66 in June, weeks after the company replaced her meter.

After her husband called the company to clarify what they saw as an obvious mistake, the company revised the bill -- upward -- to $1,971.01, and put the couple on a payment plan, Kemmet said. A typical bill for the small, one-bathroom home, she said, is $48 during summer.

“We don’t use a lot of water,” Kemmet said. “It’s crazy.”

In a statement in response to Newsday questions Tuesday, DiNapoli spokesman Mark Johnson said comptroller's auditors "intend to look at some of the issues related to American Water as part of a current audit of the PSC enforcement of contractual agreements and state laws and regulations." 

PSC spokesman James Denn said, "We are cooperating with the comptroller’s staff on their review," which he said the PSC "welcomes." 

New York American Water in a statement Friday said it would analyze all customer complaints and provide the information to customers and state officials. The company said it was, "fully committed to our customers and the accuracy of its billing." 

New York American Water President Carmen Tierno said the company was conducting a “detailed review” of billing complaints.

“We can assure our customers and stakeholders that we are taking the appropriate hard look at the issue,” said Tierno. Results of the review will be shared with customers.

As of Tuesday, State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) said his office has received 314 complaints from constituents about water bill increases since he sent a letter to the state PSC last week calling for an investigation.

“If something’s wrong with the bills, we want the company to correct them,” Kaminsky said. “If they are going to stand by the bills then we’ll have to deal with this legislatively or administratively, because it’s not tenable.”

Watchdog group Long Island Clean Air, Water and Soil, a longtime critic of the company, said the latest complaints offer further justification for its call for the water system to be taken public and the company’s franchise to operate revoked.

New York American Water’s rates are “anything but fair and reasonable,” the group said in a letter.

Asked if the state would consider a public takeover, PSC spokesman Denn noted there are "active enforcement actions underway with respect to NYAW’s past failings and an open investigation into the complaints that the Department [of Public Service] has received in recent days.  We will review the outcome of these matters before recommending further action."

Tierno said, “We are reviewing the letter from LICAWS and stand ready to assist with the Comptroller's review, however our immediate focus is providing our customers with answers based on facts.” 

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