More than 400 people gathered at the base of the Glen Head water tower on Saturday to protest what they said are the high water rates charged by New York American Water.
Fervent Sea Cliff, Merrick and Lynbrook residents arrived with signs — and their water bills — to demonstrate against the private water company.
According to NYAW officials, a decision by the Public Service Commission forces the company to include its property taxes in ratepayers’ bills. As a result, residents in NYAW districts pay more for water — at times as much as five times more — than ratepayers in municipal districts.
Rally organizers Agatha Nadel and Bill Mozer were joined by civic representatives, village and town administrators, and county elected leaders.
“The answer to this problem lies with the governor to issue a public takeover of this company,” said Bruce Kennedy, the Village of Sea Cliff administrator.
Kennedy drafted a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, which she read: “The reason for the high property taxes on NYAW properties lies with the actions (or inactions) of Albany, not the local governments.”
Copies of the letter were distributed during the rally, and protesters were urged to sign and deliver them to the state capital.
In a prepared statement, NYAW President Carmen Tierno said, “Since 2010, property taxes in what is considered our Sea Cliff district have more than quadrupled, increasing from $640,000 to more than $3.2 million. This tax, which is paid to the county and town, accounts for roughly 72 percent of each of these customers’ bills.”
“Charging taxes through rates is unconstitutional,” said David Denenberg, of Merrick, a former Nassau County legislator and founder of Clean Air Water and Soil, a civic and environmental organization. “The PSC is supposed to protect the taxpayer with fair and reasonable rates, but this latest increase protects NYAW by providing return on equity.”
Equity return means profit.
Nadel said that a public takeover of NYAW would be difficult, but not impossible. In December 1989, the Water Authority of Great Neck North purchased the assets of the Citizens Water Supply Company, which was a private, for-profit enterprise.
“To place an unjust tax burden on one community is reprehensible,” she said. “The fight for affordable water is now.”
Until a public takeover is imminent, Nassau County Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, a Democrat from Glen Cove, suggested using leftover grant money initially awarded to the North Shore School District to offset the burden of paying the company’s property tax.
Oyster Bay Town Councilwoman Michele Johnson, a Republican, said the town would work to pressure Cuomo and the PSC to resolve this issue. “We support all of our residents in this endeavor to make living on Long Island affordable,” she said. “What they’re paying is not sustainable, and we’re not going to let up.”
Nancy Oley, of Sea Cliff, whose family has lived in the village since the 1950s, said high rates are threatening her access to water. “Having the community get together to take action is going to help restore that access, and I have hopes for the future,” she said.
According to Tierno, NYAW is willing to negotiate a solution. “We are mindful of the significant impact that these taxes have on customers’ bills,” he said, “and we are committed to working with elected officials and local leaders to identify ways that the pass-through tax cost can be reduced or eliminated.”
Sea Cliff Mayor Edward Lieberman said that community involvement is vital to resolving this issue. “Without you, the governor will not here us,” he said. “Get angry, get mad, get busy.”