The Suffolk County Water Authority board approved a $194.7 million budget Tuesday night and unanimously authorized a 3.75 percent rate hike that will increase the average homeowner’s bill $14.79 a year.
No one from the public showed up to speak out against the rate increase at a hearing Tuesday night.
The authority, which serves 1.2 million county residents, charges among the lowest water rates of any public authority in New York, according to officials.
The new rates will increase the average residential water bills from $395 a year to $410 a year for customers who use 160,000 gallons.
But authority officials say the annual bills for homeowners served by the Erie County Water Authority, for example, pay an average $621 a year, while upstate Onondaga County Water Authority pay $693. Locally, customers of the Water Authority of Great Neck North pay an average of $815 while customers of the private American Water Co. that serves another portion of Nassau pay $875 a year.
The rate increase will bring in $4.35 million in new revenue to the budget that increased about $10 million, because of higher power and health insurance costs. The authority for the first time this year also will begin fully budgeting for future post-retirement benefits for employees.
Officials say the authority is using one-shots to partially offset the increase including $510,000 sale of an building it owns in Southold and $2.25 million to restructure antenna leases on its water towers with T-Mobile. The authority’s outside consultants had recommended an increase of more than 6 percent.
Officials said they are also seeing higher revenues from a new state law that permits the authority to recover unpaid water bills from deadbeat customers through property taxes. In the past, the authority annually wrote off about $500,000 a year in uncollectable bills. Now, officials say that many such delinquencies are being paid off when homes are sold. And now liens can be levied against property owners who continue not to pay.
While he backed the budget, board member Patrick Halpin called anew for the board to consider in the future a “conservation water rate” to curb those who use excessive amounts of water mainly to water their lawns.
“We have a large curve in our water use in the summer and two-thirds of it end up on the lawns,” he said. “But people don’t even think it because our bills are so inexpensive.”