The Suffolk County Water Authority board of directors on Thursday approved rate and service charge increases that will hike average customer bills by 3.77%, or around $1.56 a month, starting June 1.
The new standard rate for most residential water users jumps to $2.119 per thousand gallons, from a current $2.028 per thousand. The quarterly service charge jumps to $29.17 per quarter, from a current $27.91. The water quality and treatment charge holds steady at $20 per quarter.
The authority also announced that it raised the threshold for its so-called conservation rate for customers who use more water, typically in the summer, in a way that addresses what had been an unusually large number of high-bill complaints last year.
Starting June 1, customers will not incur that higher conservation rate until they use more than 89,760 gallons. Currently, the threshold is 78,540 gallons.
Last year, 7,441 customers filed high-bill complaints with the water authority, a 35% jump compared with 2019, most of it tied to the conservation rate, and higher summer usage.
One customer who complained about a high bill last year applauded the new higher threshold.
"That certainly is encouraging," said Donald Kirby, of Mattituck, who last year complained after receiving a bill for $779 after the authority said he had used more than 273,000 gallons between May and August. "Maybe those complaints didn’t fall on deaf ears and they realized they should do something about adjusting the threshold." He continues to dispute the amount.
Still, typical residential customers who reach the new threshold will pay slightly more for that water: $3.057 per thousand gallons, from a current $2.925 per thousand gallons, the authority said.
Jeff Szabo, chief executive of the authority, said the higher rates this year were tied to the higher "cost of doing business," including replacing or repairing aging infrastructure, treatment costs and increasing water supply sources, particularly on the East End.
The water utility also announced a new balanced-billing option to help smooth out bills over the course of the year, including through summer spikes. Other utilities such as LIPA have long had balanced billing.
"We listened to our customers very carefully," said authority chairman Patrick Halpin, in an interview. "It will make it a lot easier for people who prefer to have those costs spread out over time" while addressing typically higher summer bills.
Consultants had recommended the authority hike rates higher — from 5.9% to 7.4% — but the utility was able to find efficiencies to keep the overall rate increase to just 3.77%, spokesman Tim Motz said. The increase for most users will amount to about $18.72 a year.
Last year, approximately 100,000 of the authority’s 400,000 customers reached the conservation rate threshold, officials said. Raising the threshold will help reduce that number, said Halpin, who added that the authority has been encouraging customers to use tools like smart-water sensors to reduce water consumption tied to irrigation.