The Suffolk County Water Authority, citing higher costs for pensions, health insurance and the upkeep of aging mains, is proposing a 4.2 percent rate increase starting April 1, which would raise average homeowner bills $13 a year.

The five-member authority board set Feb. 27 for a hearing at the agency's Oakdale headquarters to get public reaction.

"No one likes to raise rates, but we have costs that are beyond our control," said authority chairman James Gaughran, adding, "It comes out to $1 a month and we believe we still have rates that are among the lowest of anyone."

Authority officials say the proposed increase -- the second in as many years -- would generate $4.3 million in new revenue to help pay for a $1.7 million increase in pension costs, $700,000 for 2 percent union salary increases, $500,000 for higher utility bills and $500,000 for increases in health insurance premiums.

Officials also say that annual payments for capital work to maintain the water system will increase about $2.5 million coming fiscal year over the $27.5 million the agency now pays.

An average water authority customer who now uses about 160,000 gallons annually pays $319 a year. The increase is scheduled to take effect April 1 so the rates would be in effect for the spring and summer seasons, when the authority pumps more than 75 percent of its 70 billion gallons a year.

The water authority's rate consultant, Black and Veetch, originally recommended last year that the agency raise rates 10 percent a year for five years. The authority board said they did an early retirement program that cut staff from 609 to 567, cut overtime $800,000 over two years and reduced the vehicle fleet by 30 to lower costs. The authority board also decided to address the need for higher rates on a year-by-year basis rather than adopt a five-year plan.

For about 14,000 authority customers who receive their water on a wholesale basis through municipal water districts such as Smithtown, St. James, Stony Brook and Greenport, the rate increase will not take affect until January 2013 because they pay for water on their tax bills.

The proposed rates would not affect about 10,000 former private water company customers in Shoreham and Bridgehampton, who already pay higher rates because of costs the authority incurred in buying and remediating the water system. Those rates are still less than what those customers paid to private water companies.

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