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Residents rally against hike in water rates

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On Monday, roughly 25 New York American Water customers rallied at the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola to decry a fast-approaching rate hike and push the State Assembly to pass legislation that would permit a municipal takeover of the company.

The rate hike is set to take effect May 1, and will increase customers’ bills up to 30 percent. It will affect NYAW’s more than 124,000 customers in Nassau County.

The rally was a joining of public water advocacy groups from across the county, including the Merrick-based Long Island Clean Air, Water and Soil. They gathered after the State Senate last week passed legislation to create a new Nassau County Water Authority, demanding that the Assembly pass corresponding legislation.

“All we’re asking for is clean, reliable and affordable water,” said David Denenberg, co-director of LICAWS. “The average [NYAW] private water customer will see our bills go up almost $400 a year — that’s more than public water customers pay a year.”

“We believe that water is a human right — it should not be a for-profit resource,” Margaret Maher, a Merrick resident and a volunteer for Food and Water Watch. “Water should be affordable and clean for everyone.”

“Now we need a corresponding bill to be passed in the Assembly and to offset the 26 percent increase,” said Agatha Nadel, director of the advocacy group North Shore Concerned Citizens. “I urge everyone here and everyone that’s affected to call your Assembly members. Tell him or her to get the job done, and to get the job done now.”

Denenberg held a sign displaying the rates paid by homeowners on the same block, but with separate water providers. The homeowner with NYAW’s private service paid nearly $2,500 over the course of a year, compared with roughly $500 for a customer with municipal service. 

The disparity is, in part, because of NYAW’s obligation to pay property and franchise taxes, the burden of which is passed along to their customers. Public municipalities and their customers do not face such burdens.

“It is completely unjust and unfair that in 2021 we have a private company selling water to us, which is a basic life need,” said George Pumbar, president of the Glen Head/Glenwood Landing Civic Association.

The Senate’s push for the legislation — which was initially not included in the state budget — was in response to a study ordered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and conducted by the state Department of Public Service that reported a public takeover of NYAW is not only feasible, but in residents’ best interests.

The DPS recommended that the State Legislature act quickly to remove the “onerous property tax burden” on NYAW’s ratepayers. In the state budget plan, NYAW would have been granted an exemption from a franchise property tax, putting more of a tax burden on ratepayers of other utilities, such as National Grid.

But the Assembly blocked the measure based on concerns that residents who are outside of NYAW’s service areas would be affected, including those in Suffolk County.

“The bill passed in the Senate would affect Suffolk County residents,” Assemblyman David McDonough, a Republican from Merrick, said. “People who aren’t affected shouldn’t have to pay that.”

As the May 1 hike loomed, Denenberg predicted that NYAW may again postpone the increase, as it has done a number of times since the pandemic began.

“We need the Assembly to pass the complementary bill to S989A from the Senate — we need it today,” said Meta Mereday, an activist from Baldwin.