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New York American Water customers face new bill hikes, some over 6%

North Shore Concerned Citizens executive committee member Agatha

North Shore Concerned Citizens executive committee member Agatha Nadel appears in an August 2018 image. NSCC is an activist group that is studying taking the water company public. Credit: Howard Schnapp

New York American Water customers face another bill increase of up to 6.47% next month as the company reconciles property tax and other charges to recoup its costs, according to letters sent to ratepayers last week. 

The hikes range from 6.47% for Lynbrook-area customers in the company’s service area one, to 5.57% for Merrick and Massapequa customers in area two, and 4.78% for customers in service area two in Sea Cliff.

The increase amounts to around $2.70 for average residential customers using around 8,000 gallons, according to one letter to a Merrick customer. For Lynbrook, that average residential increase will be $4.08 and for Sea Cliff it's $3.61. 

While the amounts aren't overwhelming, they're the latest in a steady drum beat of increases the company has sent to customers in the past three years, all state approved. 

"There seems to be no end to this madness," said Glen Head ratepayer Agatha Nadel, who sits on the executive committee of North Shore Concerned Citizens, an activist group that is studying taking the water company public. "We need a moratorium on all rate increases and surcharges until the feasibility study is completed."

The interim increase is in addition to rate hikes the company has enacted with the state’s approval for the past three years, including a controversial “conservation” rate that sent bills skyrocketing in 2018 and led to multiple investigations and protests. Thousands of customers filed complaints with the state Public Service Commission, which also probed irregularities in the company’s rate-hike request filing.

Another increase is coming in April, but a company spokeswoman was not able to detail the bill impacts earlier this week. New York American Water, with Long Island operations exclusively in Nassau, from Merrick and Lynbrook to Sea Cliff, has the Island’s most expensive water, according to a study released earlier this year. It has 125,000 Long Island customers.

The letter to ratepayers outlines a so-called revenue adjustment clause approved by the PSC that allows it to charge customers for property taxes and other “production costs” incurred during the year but not accounted for in the original rate.

The charges will appear in the next 12 monthly bills, according to the letter.

One watchdog group that has advocated for converting New York American Water to public ownership, including through a takeover by the Suffolk County Water Authority, said the increase displays the need for legislation that would exempt water utilities from property taxes, which New York American Water said account for 33 percent to 59 percent of customer bills.

“A new monthly surcharge punishes ratepayers for conserving water, ensures [company] shareholders receive their guaranteed 9.75 percent profit, and ensures that our state and local governments get revenue from our water bills,” said David Denenberg, co-director of Long Island Clean Air, Water and Soil. “There is no excuse. Our state representatives failed to amend the 1985 law that makes water utilities tax exempt in New York City, to also include their constituents in Nassau County.”

The hike in November, said Denenberg, is "just another hit."

Lee Mueller, a spokeswoman for the water company, said New York American Water supports legislation that exempts it from the taxes. “It’s definitely something we’re continuing to push,” she said.

She noted the latest surcharge will be levied on only the water usage portion of customer bills. It reflects costs for the year ending March 31, 2019, she said.

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) said no matter how it's levied, the increase demonstrates the need for change. 

"This is just another glaring example that the only solution for the folks impacted by American Water is to have some sort of public entity taking over the system," Gaughran said. "Whether one large entity or, as I propose, a water authority for Sea Cliff and surrounding areas … there really is no room for a private water company" in the region.

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