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E. Williston, Williston Park water fight continues

A battle between neighboring villages East Williston and Williston Park over what should be charged for water is still boiling, two years after a legal motion was filed opposing a hefty hike.

East Williston gets its water as it flows from Williston Park through a metered source at the property line between the two villages, East Williston says in court documents.

East Williston pays Williston Park for that water based on meter readings, and then distributes it to residents through its own piping system, records say.

Williston Park increased water rates 28 percent for East Williston residents in 2011, and East Williston leaders cited in court documents a 1991 agreement that East Williston's purchase price for the water was to be 78 percent of that charged to Williston Park residents.

The 2011 hike meant Williston Park charged East Williston a commercial rate of $3.83 per 1,000 gallons of water -- up from $2.99. In turn, the residential rate, which includes infrastructure and other costs, that East Williston charged its homeowners rose to $5.47 from $3.85.

The average Long Islander pays about $2 per 1,000 gallons, according to the Long Island Water Conference. Chairman Michael Boufis noted in a statement that rates vary widely because of issues like infrastructure investment and treatment.

In court papers, East Williston claims Williston Park is treating it as a "captive" consumer within its confines and setting an arbitrary water rate for that customer at a level far above any other customer. East Williston officials have said that because of the long-standing deal, their village never built its own wells.

Though the 1991 agreement was for two years, according to the documents, Williston Park did not attempt to renegotiate the water rates until 2006. After it did, East Williston objected and in 2011 filed the court motion, saying the rate increase violated Williston Park's code, which requires a public hearing before implementing a rate change.

A judge ruled the new rate could not take effect until a public hearing was held. The village did so in the summer of 2012, according to court records and set a "wholesale rate of $4.33 per thousand gallons" for East Williston.

East Williston filed another motion in 2012 opposing that increase.

East Williston Mayor David Tanner has said the village of about 2,500 had been charged a lower rate because residents were paying for more services.

"The real crux of this problem is that in all the talk of consolidation -- this flies in the face of consolidation," Tanner said this year. "As a wholesale customer, if we really have no input into what we pay, we're at the mercy of the supplier."

Neither East Williston or Williston Park officials would comment on whether the villages were in negotiation. Williston Park has about 7,300 residents.

Bob Mitchell, a Williston Park resident, said the village is confronting a dilemma. "How do they treat their biggest and best customer -- but it's quite obvious the costs have to be brought in line."

Brian Egan, a village attorney for several Suffolk villages, said the suit was a sign of tax caps and sliding revenue. "The expectations for local governments to do more is always increasing, but the revenues are not there to fund the demanded levels of service," he wrote in an email.

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