On July 31, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office announced that it would review “some issues” related to New York American Water, a private water utility that services more than 120,000 residents of Nassau County, amid complaints about spiking water bills from South Shore customers.
According to DiNapoli’s communications dir-ector, Jennifer Freeman, the re-view is being conducted in coordination with an audit of the state Public Service Commission by the comptroller’s office.
“Our auditors intend to look at some issues related to American Water as part of a current audit of PSC enforcement of contractual agreements and state laws and regulations,” Freeman said, adding that the office cannot directly audit NYAW because it is not authorized to do so.
“It’s about time,” Glen Head resident Agatha Nadel said of the review. Nadel has been speaking out about NYAW since May 2017, when the PSC approved a four- year phase-in of rate increases, resulting in an average annual increase of $200 in customers’ water bills. Seventy percent of the bills went toward the company’s property taxes.
Despite the inability of DiNapoli’s office to conduct a full audit of NYAW, Nadel said she believed there was much more to be discovered. “DiNapoli must look into all of un-American Water’s business practices, not just some, as he stated,” she said. “He must do a complete and thorough investigation. Many of us believe there’s a lot more to uncover.”
A June report by the state Department of Public Service revealed that NYAW had intentionally deceived the PSC by filing falsified information with the Tax Assessment Service and withholding material facts during rate proceedings.
On July 12, State Assemblywoman Christine Pellegrino, a Democrat from West Islip, announced her intent to introduce two bills that could push NYAW out of the county. Her assembly district encompasses communities included in NYAW’s Merrick district.
One bill would direct DiNapoli’s office to fund a feasibility study to determine the most efficient, cost-effective and comprehensive means for a public entity to supply water to all 46 Nassau communities in NYAW’s jurisdiction. A similar situation occurred in Great Neck in 1985, when DiNapoli, then an assemblyman, introduced legislation to create the Water Authority of Great Neck North, which was signed into law by then Gov. Mario Cuomo.
Shortly after Pellegrino’s news conference, the PSC announced that it would direct a special court proceeding against New York American Water. In addition, the commission is looking to hire an independent monitor and possibly require the utility’s shareholders to pay the costs of the company’s “failures.”
The PSC is also investigating hundreds of complaints by South Shore ratepayers who say their bills doubled after new water meters were installed. Nadel said that some North Shore residents faced a similar issue last summer when they were billed for meters they deemed “broken” and “faulty.”
In an email, PSC spokesman James Denn confirmed the probe, but did not provide any further information.
On July 30, NYAW President Carmen Tierno said in an emailed statement that the utility “takes every customer contact seriously. The accuracy of our meters is critical to our service commitment,” he said. “Our customer service team has already been working with several customers regarding questions about their water bills.”
The company is “conducting a detailed review using advanced analytics and meter testing to confirm their accuracy,” said Tierno, who shared the methodology used during the July 30 review with the PSC. “The results of our analysis and testing will be shared transparently with our customers and stakeholders. New York American Water is fully committed to our customers and the accuracy of its billing.”
A prepared statement on Tuesday from NYAW Deputy Chief Operating Officer William Varley said “the average amount of water delivered to the system during the summer months is 47 million gallons per day. That is 2.5 times the usage during the winter months.” He attributed “confusion regarding our customer billing rates” to conservation rates, for which customers pay progressively higher rates as their water use increases.
“Our communications team will be executing a robust education effort to ensure customers are aware of the new conservation rates and the importance of protecting our water system,” Varley said.