Written by Jaime L. Tomeo Friday, 11 September 2009 00:00
Aqua-New York Water Company has submitted a request to the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) seeking approval to raise their rates in areas where residents and businesses are already paying nearly three times more for water than public water district ratepayers.
According to PSC Spokesperson Anne Dalton, the company filed a tariff on March 9 seeking a $6 million base rate revenue increase, plus a surcharge mechanism for a new storage facility. Documents estimate that this increase would raise residents’ average monthly bills by 12 percent and fire hydrant usage fees by 27 percent. Aqua-New York is regulated by the PSC and they must give its approval before the rate increase can take effect.
Pennsylvania-based Aqua America, Inc. is the holding company for regulated utilities providing water or wastewater services to approximately 2.5 million people in 13 states.
Aqua-New York serves more than 152,000 residents in four counties across New York including Merrick, Bellmore, Wantagh, Seaford, E. Massapequa and parts of North Merrick, North Bellmore, Levittown, Massapequa Park, Sea Cliff, Old Brookville, Roslyn Harbor, Glenwood Landing, Glen Head and Glen Cove. This territory totals 25 square miles.
Assemblyman Joseph Saladino (R-Massapequa) called the proposed rate hike “outrageous, unfair and an abuse of the good people of our community who are struggling to make ends meet.”
“As the economy stagnates and unemployment continues to rise, another rate hike for a privately owned monopoly, where consumers have no other choice, is not acceptable,” he added.
Assemblyman David McDonough, in a May 20 letter to the PSC, urged the Commission to oppose these increases “as the local homeowners in my district who utilized Aqua-New York cannot afford this type of a rate increase and will be unable to make ends meet.”
Legislator Mejias said, “At a time when the people of Nassau County are economically parched Aqua Water’s greed has them swimming in profits. To increase the rates by 12 percent during these difficult economic times is unconscionable. The only ones winning here are the Aqua stockholders. The company is being driven by greed at the expense of our local taxpayers.”
The PSC held two public hearings on Sept. 1 in Merrick, although the PSC has been receiving letters of opposition for months. Dom and Mary Spinsosa of Wantagh wrote that the fare hike “is far beyond the current Consumer Price Index of approximately 3 percent. When we analyze the increase rate of 12 percent and compare it with the CPI, there is a strong smell of ‘gouging.’” In an Aug. 13 letter Massapequa resident Roseann Maltese wrote to the PSC that she “cannot believe” her water bills and even complained a few times to the company.
“People cannot afford to live or retire here anymore,” she wrote. “We are all struggling to survive.”
The 27 percent fire hydrant usage hike would represent an average of $150 more per hydrant. In a May 27 letter to the PSC, the Wantagh Fire District said this would add $143.13 per hydrant to their current charge, resulting in a rate of $674.94 per hydrant.
“The Wantagh Fire Department also pays between $40 and $75 per hydrant to several water districts,” writes Superintendent Michael G. Antonucci. “Why are the hydrant rental fees from Aqua-New York so extreme?”
At the Sept. 9 meeting, the Levittown Board of Education expressed its opposition to the rate increase proposed by Aqua-New York.
In an Aug. 4 letter from Kimberly Joyce, manager of Regulatory Affairs at Aqua, wrote that the company had performed a self-assessment of its internal controls associated with the procurement and management of contract services, as per the PSC’s request.
“Our self assessment…found that there were effective controls in place,” she wrote. The few areas for improvement, according to Joyce, were in low risk areas and actions plans have been developed to improve the “efficiency and effectiveness of current operating procedures.”
Assemblyman Saladino and Senator Charles Fuschillo (R-8th Senate District) attended the public hearings and have called on the PSC to reject Aqua-New York Water’s proposed rate hikes.
“There is no time to let someone else worry about it,” Saladino added. “All Long Islanders must act together to make sure rates cannot and will not be increased at such an inappropriate time.”
“Residents should take advantage of the chance to tell the PSC how Aqua-New York Water’s rate increase proposal will affect them,” Fuschillo added. “I urge anyone who is concerned about paying higher water bills to make their voices heard to the PSC.”
The public comment period will end Oct. 9 and the Commission will need to make a determination prior to March 2010.
“The commission has not yet considered Aqua NY Water’s proposal,” Dalton said. “The public’s comment concerning the company’s proposal are important to the Commission and become part of the official record in the proceeding.”