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Suffolk water authority eyes $1 surcharge, union head says

East Setauket residents are upset about a new

East Setauket residents are upset about a new communications tower planned for their community. Credit: News 12

The union leader at the Suffolk County Water Authority warned Monday that the agency is looking at imposing a $1 a month surcharge on customers starting this spring.

Nick Caracappa, president of the Utility Workers of America Local 393, said the new fee, which would raise $4.7 million annually, will eventually be aimed at enabling the water agency to take over sewer operations from the county.

Caracappa made the comments after appearing before the county legislature’s Environment and Planning Committee to oppose the reappointment of former County Executive Patrick Halpin to a new five-year term as an SCWA board member, with a stipend of $18,500.

Caracappa, whose union has been without a contract for more than three years, lambasted authority officials for mismanagement, saying that rising costs are “out of control.” Meanwhile, the SCWA is delaying repairs on water mains and fire hydrants to save on overtime, and using delis and bodegas to take payment for authority bills, damaging customer service, Caracappa said.

Halpin countered that the authority’s rates are among the lowest in the nation. He said the authority is well managed and its supply of a water is both ample and of high quality because it is tested far more frequently than the state requires.

While acknowledging unsettled labor issues, Halpin said the authority has set aside money to pay for a deal once an agreement is reached.

Also, authority officials say there is “no truth” to Caracappa’s claim that rate money would go to take over county sewers, noting the agency does not have the legal authority to take such a step.

The resolution to reappoint Halpin to a third term was voted out of committee without recommendation on a 4-1 vote. Legis. Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) recused himself because his son works for the authority.

Legis. Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) agreed to support the resolution without recommendation so it could go before the full legislature. But Muratore expressed misgivings about SCWA management and recent rate increases.

The authority last year raised rates by 4.2 percent, or about $14.68 for the average customer who uses 160,000 gallons annually. That raised the average homeowner’s water bill from $350 to $364.68 a year. In 2013, rates rose by 1.2 percent.

Water authority officials say the agency has hired an outside consultant, Municipal and Financial Services Group, to do a 5-year rate study at a cost of $105,000. But no specific rate plan for the coming year has been put forward and officials declined to comment on the possibility of a surcharge.

“There are various scenarios under consideration to proactively address vital infrastructure needs to keep our rates among the lowest in the country for years to come,” said water authority spokesman Tim Motz.

A new rate plan could become public as early as next Tuesday, when the authority board meets. Caracappa said he received his information from union employees familiar with the deliberations.

The five-member authority board would hold a public hearing on any rate increase before it would take effect.

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