Water Authority Dissolves Itself at Final Meeting

DOUGLAS FINLAY

Meeting for the last time to answer unresolved questions from residents during last month’s meeting, the Water Authority of South Eastern Nassau County officially dissolved itself under a barrage of criticism from two residents who said it had not finished what it started out to do: take over the NY Water Corporation (Aqua) to lower the water rates paid by thousands of residents in the districts it serves.

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Nassau County Legislator Steve  Rhoads spoke of investigating whether reparations or rebates are due to residents of NYAmerican Water

Earlier in the evening Steve Rhoads, legislator of the county’s 19th Legislative District, told those who attended he had learned in a conference call with Brian Bruce , CEO of NYAmerican Water, that as of last year payments to school districts the water company had been paying it did not serve had been stopped.

Rhoads said he would work quickly to determine if any reparations or a lowering of rates could be forthcoming from NYAmerican Water because of the savings the company would make in not having to pay school districts it did not provide water service to.

After WASENC Chairman Richard Ronan read a resolution at the end of the meeting effectively stating the authority accepted the August 2014 report and would support the “status quo” in keeping NYAmerican Water as the private company, Andy Weiner of Bellmore accused the board “of not doing its job” in supporting the residents in lowering the water bills – bills that are said to be hundreds of dollars more than surrounding communities that get water from the Town of Hempstead.
Vice-chairman of the board John Reinhardt remarked that the board had sat in at the closing when American Water took over New York Water in 2012, and that American Water knew of the authority’s charter to find a less-expensive way to deliver water to its customers. Reinhardt said the board was doing this voluntarily, without pay.

He told the sparse crowd he had sat all day in meetings in New York with other federal and state agencies listening to some of those agencies attempt to pass the cost of building pumps onto NYAmerican Water in the Massapequa Water District to pump out pollutants from the Bethpage Grumman contaminated plume.

He said other local agencies were pointing to containing the contaminated plume upstream before it hits NYAmerican Water wells, and becomes a costly venture for NYAmerican Water to build those wells and pass it to consumers across its districts.

2016-02-02 20.13.34WASENC BOARD: John Reinhardt, Richard Ronan, Rolland Graham, Walter D’Amato and Maureen Fitzgerald

Claudia Borecky, president of the North and Central Merrick Civic Association, appeared angry they had dissolved the authority without even developing a cost comparison between NYAmerican Water costs and those of the Town of Hempstead, which are dramatically lower. “You didn’t even finish your report!” she exclaimed.

Ronan said it was the authority’s charter to determine a valuation of the company, and not set out to create comparisons between the private water company and the municipality. He said to study those comparisons would have required more capital than they were given by both the Town of Hempstead and the Town of Oyster Bay. Each contributed $7500 to the study.

Board member Maureen Fitzgerald noted that the Town of Oyster Bay did not have a Department of Water, so who or what would have absorbed the Massapequa Water District? She maintained that the cost of $143 more per resident/per year to pay for the takeover was too much for residents in the small area to pay.

While $143 more per resident per year had been touted as the standard-bearing cost to take over the private water company, the board made it clear that was a minimal cost and that it could go much higher, because of operational costs and labor costs to maintain the infrastructure. “We would have had to borrow at least $100 million to acquire NYAmerican Water,” Ronan said. It would have been paid out over 30 years, according to the 2014 report.

Reinhardt explained that average costs for the town’s water came in at roughly $357, while NYAmerican Water’s average costs per year per customer came in at roughly $447. While that number was debated vigorously by Borecky, Ronan stuck to the position that that number was the average per year. “There will be those who pay $1200 and more a year,” he admitted, because they use more water.

2016-02-02 16.07.43New NYAmerican Water headquarters at Smith Street and Brooklyn Avenue, Merrick

Reinhardt said the $447 was arrived at by taking $26 million for operating costs and dividing it by 43,000 connections. He also said that when comparing other smaller water districts surrounding the NYAmerican Water district, wild fluctuations in the yearly rates of water were found as well.

Reinhardt also told Weiner that water utilities are among the most regulated in the state, if not the country. “When a water company asks to raise rates, they are typically lower requests than residents whose cable TV and cell phone coverage costs could go up substantially over the same time period.” Yet, he maintained, residents still purchase those unregulated services.

Regarding profits the company earns, the board said NYAmerican Water earns those profits on its capital improvements. When asked whether the water company, in earning those profits, had done more improvements than the town to update its infrastructures, and had greatly improved quality of water, Reinhardt could answer only that painting a building would also be considered a capital improvement.

Merrick resident Richard Landau remarked to Your NewsMag as he left the sparsely attended meeting, “Look at the volume of people here” and this will tell you why this issue has been a tough sell to residents.

Borecky said she may look into either a class action suit, or find a way to put it to a referendum for a vote by residents.

To learn what Legislator Steve Rhoads may learn about rebates or reparations to residents in the future, call his office at 571-6219.

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