It has been nearly two months since New York American Water’s rate increase took effect, after being granted by the state Public Service Commission. Many residents of Glen Head and Sea Cliff, which are among the 12 water districts on Long Island that NYAW serves, are not pleased with the $3.6 million rate increase.
“My husband and I are just outraged,” said Agatha Nadel, a lifelong resident of Glen Head. “This company needs to be disbanded.” Nadel received her most recent bill, for $706.95, on Monday. “It’s really a nightmare,” she said. “It’s a travesty, it’s an injustice, and to me, this has to be illegal.”
Nadel only uses her water for basic services such as showering and washing dishes. She has a sprinkler system, but her family is very conservative with its usage. Adding to her frustration, Nadel said, the water is not clean, and she must use a filter in her home.
She explained that with all the surcharges the bill includes, the rates are unsustainable, meaning that it would be difficult for residents to afford water.
“I think I can speak for most of the residents that we just feel like this is a … legalized monopoly, and it’s just not right,” she said. “We’re talking about water. This is just insane, and I don’t know what the answer is.”
The Glen Head-Glenwood Civic Association, along with civic associations from Merrick and Lynbrook, which are also affected by the increase, have held several meetings with NYAW President Carmen Tierno to continue the discussion.
“For a household paying approximately $850 a year in water, approximately $530 of it goes to taxes allocated by Nassau County to the water company,” said Mary Carter, a member of the civic association. “Municipalities who run their own water districts are tax-exempt.”
Carter added that as taxes continue to be charged to NYAW, Glen Head’s annual rate increase, from $850 to $1,350 per household, would only make matters worse. “This has already been put in effect, and our bills will now get even higher,” she said.
Carter explained that without all the taxes, which the PSC allows public companies to pass on to consumers, NYAW’s bills would be much lower.
Glen Head is also looking for alternatives to a proposed $3.5 million water tower the company plans to erect next year. The hamlet’s existing tower is more than 80 years old, and visibly corroded. Carter said that the potential cost isn’t of much significance anymore, because it is factored into the increase the PSC granted NYAW. “However, the aesthetics and other details are important and are being discussed,” she added. “We plan to hold two more meetings on this subject and hopefully reach an agreement.”
So far, Glen Head has come up with two proposed solutions to address both problems. The first is to hold a referendum on whether to claim eminent domain. If voters approve such a move, the hamlet would buy NYAW out of its services by issuing a bond, which would be paid off in 25 to 30 years. As for water supply, the hamlet would then outsource another municipality for a fee.
“We would not install a water district of our own, as it becomes too burdensome and expensive,” Carter said. “All of these costs together would still be at a much lower cost than what we’re currently paying.”
Carter explained that if eminent domain were put on the table, Glen Head can expect NYAW to fight it in court. That could be costly and time-consuming. “We have seen other communities across the U.S. do it and have won their case,” she said. “However, we would need to expect a long, drawn-out process.”
The second option is for the hamlet to work with local legislators to try to eliminate the taxes on NYAW, which would reduce ratepayers’ bills. “Since these taxes do not go away,” Carter said, “they would then be passed on to all Nassau County residents using utilities.” She added that Glen Head residents are leaning toward the second alternative, which is seen as a quicker and easier solution.
The taxes make up for those no longer being paid by LIPA and National Grid, due to the decommissioning of their power plant in Glenwood Landing in 2013.
State Assemblyman Michael Montesano, a Republican from Glen Head, said he is always open to helping the community find a solution. “If it’s something that we can do to help, and if it’s something that can be accomplished through legislation, I would be the first one on board,” Montesano said. “These people are in a tough spot, and I understand that.”
“I think now that people have seen the magnitude of this rate increase,” Nadel said. “I think people are starting to speak up. There’s got to be some compromise here.”