Oceanside resident Mimi Griffo is among many residents and elected officials who have expressed outrage over a planned rate hike by New York American Water.
“We are conservative, but I’m still paying more in water monthly than in gas and electric,” Griffo said. “I also use my sprinkler system only every other day . . . Nassau County should have more control, and look for a company that will not . . . charge more than double the national average.”
The rate hike was originally scheduled to take effect April 20, but with Long Islanders dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, the increase was pushed to Sept. 1. With new rates, residential customers in the Lynbrook service area, which includes Oceanside and Island Park, will pay a certain amount per 100 gallons that they use:
The first 3,000 gallons will cost 49 cents per 100 gallons.
The next 3,001 to 6,000, 67 cents.
The next 6,001 to 15,000 gallons, 97 cents.
And anything above 15,001, $1.28.
Lee Mueller, the utility’s external affairs manager, said that much of the increase is caused by state taxes, and there has been recent legislation proposed in the State Senate to eliminate those special franchise taxes.
“The fastest path toward significant rate relief is reducing the unfair tax burden levied on our customers,” Mueller said. “. . . We pledge to work with the [Long Island state legislative] delegation to double down on their efforts and ensure that legislation is passed by both houses of the Legislature. Taxes make up between 31 and 55 percent of our customer’s bills. Reducing that burden will quickly provide true rate relief.”
But for customers like Griffo, waiting for legislation to pass is not the best option. She noted that NYAW implemented a tier system to determine rates, and that with her children returning to her home during the coronavirus pandemic, times are tough.
“It just seems so unfair that they bill you based on a tier system,” she said. “So I’m penalized for using more water because I have more people in my family. “
In March 2019, NYAW received approval from the state Public Service Commission to delay a planned 12.5 percent hike for customers in the Lynbrook service area. The action came amid a state investigation into the utility’s rate increases and heated public hearings. The increase was part of a four-year rate plan that was approved by the PSC and took effect in 2016.
The hike was set to take effect on April 1, 2019, then April 1 this year, before finally being delayed until Sept. 1 amid the pandemic. While it was initially believed that a double-digit rate hike could be coming, the PSC announced in February that it was deferring a 27 percent spike that was slated for April and would instead plan for a 6 percent increase. By law, the utility must notify residents 30 days before any hikes are implemented.
Last month, the Public Service Commission extended the deadline by which local municipalities and authorities can submit proposals for a public takeover of NYAW, which could halt the company’s $608 million private sale to Liberty Utilities. The PSC began soliciting plans on June 22, before the utility’s July target date for the sale. If the private sale were to happen, water service for nearly 120,000 residents across three districts in Lynbrook, Merrick and Sea Cliff would be handed over to Ontario-based Liberty. Municipalities and authorities have until Oct. 15 to submit takeover plans.
The sale to Liberty was announced last November after years of criticism of NYAW by customers, lawmakers and watchdogs over rate hikes, water service and infrastructure management.
In a letter to NYAW President Lynda DiMenna, State Sens. Todd Kaminsky, John Brooks and James Gaughran called the rate hikes “inappropriate and insensitive,” since they are planned to be implemented during the pandemic, when many people are struggling. They noted that New York’s current unemployment rate is 15.7 percent, up from 3.7 percent in February, and that while many businesses reopened after taking quarantine measures, many remain unable to do so.
“These and other leading economic indicators all point to the same conclusion: This crisis is far from over, and people are struggling,” the letter reads. “For these reasons, raising prices on an essential resource like water is unfathomable now. When Long Islanders are hurting, it is our job to help them, not compound their problems. Ratepayers can barely afford the seasonal price of water as-is, and you should not place an additional burden on them.”
Andrew Garcia contributed to this story.