Lynbrook water customers facing 21% rate hike April 1

Mark Harrington for Long Island Herald

January 22, 2020

Originally published in Newsday on January 22, 2020.

New York American Water customers in the Lynbrook service area face a 21% rate hike April 1 as a result of last year’s delayed increase, but lawmakers, the state and the company are working to push through a plan to water down the increase over three years.

Last March, New York American Water received “emergency” approval to delay a planned 12.5% hike for Lynbrook-area customers to avoid rate "shock" amid contentious public hearings and state investigations into its rate increases. The Public Service Commission approved the increase but hasn’t yet ruled on other proposed changes to the rate structure that would have lessened the increases by spreading them out until 2023. The company received PSC approval for four years of rate hikes in 2016, with the last scheduled to take place for all its customers by this April.

The PSC, in response to Newsday questions about the pending increase, said it was working to reduce the impact.

The commission is “considering various options to mitigate any rate increase, including spreading out any increase over an extended period of time,” spokesman James Denn said in a statement. “No decision has been made in this regard.”

Dave Beldner, an East Rockaway water customer in the Lynbrook district, said while he'd prefer no increase, he'd go along with the three-year plan to spread out the increase so "we're not hit with sticker shock." 

"The problem is, they shouldn't be increasing it," he said of his rate. "I don't want any increase. They're one of the highest rates for water in the country." 

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) said he has been in contact with the PSC and supports a plan to delay the increases. But Kaminsky said he wants the state to use any leverage it has in the pending sale of New York American Water to Liberty Utilities to stave off further increases.

“This is temporary relief that’s needed,” Kaminsky said. “Next, let’s use the merger as an extraction point to get locked-in relief going forward.”

New York American Water, in a statement, said it asked for the increase to be spread out over three years “to moderate the rate increase for customers. New York American Water will provide notifications in a timely manner when new rates are confirmed, likely in early March,” spokeswoman Lee Mueller said.

But not everyone is happy with the rate filing. David Denenberg, co-director of watchdog group Long Island Clean Air, Water, Soil, said no rate changes should be approved without a public hearing. He charged the company has repeatedly made changes to infrastructure projects after the formal rate case in 2016, changes that affect rates.

He and others, including state Sen. John Brooks (D-Seaford), are advocating for piecemeal or wholesale municipal takeover of New York American Water, which expects to complete its $608 million sale to Liberty by the summer. Brooks last week said he was in conversations with the Suffolk County Water Authority about such a takeover, and he is backing a recently reported move by the Massapequa Water District to annex 5,800 New York American Water customers and infrastructure in the East Massapequa district. Sea Cliff’s 4,500 customers are also in the process of studying the feasibility of breaking off to join with the Jericho Water District.