A rate hike of about $1,000 a year for two dozen Orient homeowners is on the agenda for a Suffolk County Water Authority meeting Friday night.

Those families, who live off Browns Hill Road, belong to a small, private water system that was taken over by the Suffolk County Water Authority for $1 in 1996.

They are not connected to the authority's distribution system. Instead, they draw local water, which has been contaminated over decades with fertilizers and other farm chemicals. Each house has a reverse osmosis filter that must be checked several times a year and changed annually.

Each homeowner now pays almost $500 a year for water service, compared to about $300 a year for a typical Suffolk County Water Authority customer.

The hearing is on a proposal being considered by the authority to triple bills for those Browns Hill customers, which SCWA officials say represents the actual cost of servicing the tiny area.

"It's a bit of a joke, since they can do whatever they like," said Venetia Hands, a Browns Hill Road resident. "There is no place to appeal,"

The meeting is at 6 p.m. at Water Authority offices at 700 Boisseau Ave. in Southold hamlet.

In January, the Water Authority had proposed building a 17,000-foot new water line from East Marion to Orient at a cost $3.6 million, half of which would be paid for with federal economic stimulus funds.

But the idea of bringing in public water divided the small community at the tip of the North Fork, with many residents fearing it could lead to more development.

Signs that said, "No Water Main. Save What's Left" sprouted on some lawns, and after repeated complaints, the town board came out against the project, which was eventually dropped by the Water Authority. Despite its name, the Suffolk County Water Authority is not a county agency, but a private corporation.

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