Customers say New York American Water is all wet

Five Towns residents take issue with skyrocketing bills and poor response

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More than 430 customer complaints have been logged by State Sen. Todd Kaminsky’s office as of Aug. 3, on the issue of exponentially higher water bills and poor response to the problem from New York American Water.

An investigation by the New York State Public Service Commission has been launched about the higher rates. The Merrick-based company serves several South Shore communities, including the Five Towns. The Nassau County District Attorney’s office is also reviewing the complaints.

“In recent days, our offices have received scores of complaints from customers, some of whom have seen triple-digit billing increases, yet all of whom report that their water usage has not increased commensurately, if at all,” Kaminsky and Town of Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen, both Democrats, wrote in their July 27 letter that called for a state probe. “Some of these constituents are elderly and live on a fixed-income, making these billing spike untenable and troubling.”

In postings on the Lawrence District 15 Residents Facebook page, community members vented their frustration with the exponentially higher water bills.

Rachelle Neuman said her most recent water bill was triple compared to the previous bill and the response from American Water’s customer service center was boorish. “Usually [it’s] about $100 but this time it was $300,” she said. “They told me that I used much more water. I know the water company was quite nasty and treated me like I was senile. Not OK.”

“We actually called the water company earlier this week (July 30-Aug. 3) because our bill was so ridiculously high this month,” Helene Lanie Suerez Marlin wrote. “We didn’t realize that ours wasn’t an isolated problem. Our bill was almost double of last July’s. My husband received a call back saying they would look into it and get back to him.”

“Called the water company as well, and got an epic runaround, ” Lisa Sperling Schneider posted.

American Water officials who said they received 400 complaints about high water bills from residents across the South Shore said that the increase in water use and the recently instituted “conservation rate” are the cause of the billing bump after a preliminary review of those complaints.

Several elected officials including State Assemblywoman Melissa Miller and Assemblyman Brian Curran, both Republicans, met with American Water President Carmen Tierno on Aug. 2, where they learned that the utility would conduct an internal investigation.

After the two-phase investigation is completed American Water would then educate ratepayers about the 4-year rate increase that the Public Service Commission approved on June 1, 2017 and in effect since last year, it increased American Water’s revenue by $3.6 million, according to a news release on its website. The increase was to offset the more than $136 million spent on upgrading treatment and distribution facilities.

“That is a significant factor, I believe and what American Water believes, for the rate increase that we’re seeing,” Curran said.

However, the news release said that, “even with the increase, the cost of water service for customers remains about a penny per gallon.”

Curran added that the water rate increases are not related to the newly installed water meters that were installed, and added that he and Miller will continue pushing for answers.

Kaminsky continues to question the rate spikes. To log a complaint with Kaminsky’s office, call (516) 766-8383.

Have an opinion about high water bills? Send your letter to the editor to jbessen@liherald.com.