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Suffolk Water Authority poised to vote on 6.6 percent rate hike

The SCWA on Tuesday also is expected to vote on surcharges for customers who use more than 78,540 gallons in any quarter. 

The Suffolk County Water Authority is expected to hold a public hearing and vote Tuesday on a proposal to increase water use rates by 6.6 percent for most customers and impose two-tier rates for customers who use more than twice the average amount of water in any quarter.

A 6.6 percent rate hike would boost annual bills for the average homeowner who uses 160,000 gallons to $436 from $409, officials said. Rate hikes over the past three years have ranged from 3.75 percent to 4.2 percent. 

The proposed two-tier rate, aimed at promoting conservation, could affect as many as 70,000 water users — or about 25 percent of the authority's 385,000 customers — who use more than 78,540 gallons in any quarter.  The second tier rate would be a 20 percent premium for water usage above that limit.

SCWA officials said the conservation rate would bring in about $3.6 million a year. However, they said they could not estimate the potential impact on individual heavy users because they may cut down consumption.

In 2015, for instance, billionaire David Koch’s 4-acre estate in Southampton was the authority’s water top user at 20.7 million gallons.

Jeff Szabo, SCWA chief executive officer, said the initiative would make the heaviest users bear a larger share of water costs.

“A tiered structure is a thoughtful way to get the revenues we need while protecting most customers from large increases,” Szabo said.

A public hearing on the proposed rates is scheduled for 3 p.m. Tuesday at authority headquarters at 4060 Sunrise Hwy. in Oakdale. The five-member SCWA board is expected to vote afterward; new rates would take effect April 1.

The rate hikes will help fund the authority’s proposed $138 million operating budget for 2019-2020, which is up by 3.7 percent, or $5 million, from this year. The new rates also will help fund the $80 million capital budget, which is down by $4 million compared with this year.

The rate proposal comes as the authority and other water agencies are facing increasing contamination threats from unregulated chemicals such as 1,4-dioxane, which officials say could cost $850 million to remediate islandwide.

While the SCWA budget includes money for remediation, the agency has sued chemical makers and is pressing the state to lift caps on aid to large water suppliers.    

The authority’s rate proposal includes a use fee increase from $1.95 to $2.03 per thousand gallons. The four percent hike will bring in $4.8 million.

A quarterly base service charge will go from $24.27 to $27.91 per customer and bring in $4.1 million, officials said.

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