‘We’re Looking For A Public Takeover’: New York American Water Leaving Long Island, But Residents Don’t Want Another Private Utility

Carolyn Gusoff for CBS New York

November 26, 2019

Originally published in CBS New York on November 26, 2019.

An embattled water company is packing up and leaving Long Island after years of outcry from rate payers.

New York American Water is being sold, but it’s not the change critics were pushing for.

Plainview homeowner Steve Heilburn doesn’t understand why water, a natural resource, costs him triple what other Long Islanders pay. The difference? Most are public water customers, but 120,000 are customers of New York American Water, a private company.

“A private company is most concerned with profits, profits. That’s all they want,” Heilburn said.
Now, after calls by rate-payers for a public takeover for years, the company is selling to another private utility: Canada-based Liberty Utilities.

That’s not the change opponents had advocated for.

“Liberty is not paying $600 million for New York American Water to cut rates. They’re paying that much money because they expect to make even more profits, and it’s all on our backs,” said Dave Denenburg of Long Island Clean Air, Water and Soil.

Customers says they’re drowning in exorbitant rates. New York American Water has long blamed the island’s high property taxes it has to pay on its facilities. Public utilities are exempt.

“We are not looking for another water company to come in and charge sky high rates. We’re looking for a public takeover,” said Baldwin resident Jack McCloy.

They delivered that demand to the Public Service Commission.

New York American Water cautions:

The fastest way to achieving more affordable water service is to lower the unfair property tax burden placed on our customers. Between 33% and 59% of our customer’s bills are due to property taxes. That is inherently unfair and to create affordability that must change. A municipal takeover would not lead to lower prices for customers. The debt service needed to finance a purchase of this size would be passed through to customers and essentially replace the unfair tax burden placed on our customers.

Senator Todd Kaminsky says good riddance to New York American Water and urges the PSC to hold a new company to a higher standard or a public takeover.

“I’m all ears and I’ll move heaven and earth in Albany to get the state to make that OK,” Kaminsky said.

But a public utility would have to pay $600 million – fair market value – for the company, and so far no one has stepped up to the plate.

Public hearings on the sale will be held in 3-6 months.

“Our top priority is to improve this situation for everybody – we know the tax burden is untenable, and we want to be part of the solution,” said Ian Robertson, Chief Executive Officer of Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp., parent company of Liberty Utilities. “We’re looking forward to constructive relationships with our customers, elected officials, the regulators and community leaders to discuss a path forward.”

“The proposed sale of the company’s New York assets will be subject to public review and carefully scrutinized to ensure that the interests of customers are protected,” the Public Service Commission said in a statement.