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Senator Brooks wants water study amid rate discrepancies

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State Sen. John Brooks, a Democrat from Seaford, will introduce legislation for a feasibility study that would assess whether the Suffolk County Water Authority could take over New York American Water’s Nassau County service areas. The announcement came a week after Citizens Campaign for the Environment released a report showing discrepancies among what residents across Long Island are paying for their water.

According to the report, NYAW ratepayers in Merrick live in the sixth-most-expensive water district on Long Island, with payments reaching an estimated $719.28 per year. By comparison, ratepayers in Freeport, less than two miles away, pay an average of $249.60 per year for water, making the village the fifth-cheapest water district on the list.

“New York American Water is aware of the inequity of the tax system, which places a burden on [our] customers while all other Long Islanders are exempted,” said Lee Mueller, NYAW’s external affairs manager. “Furthermore, we would caution against comparing rates between public and private water systems, as there are significant differences between the two in terms of taxes, rate structures and investments.”

Brooks said he was unsurprised by the report’s findings, saying that the company adds “profit to everything under the sun,” and that its rate structure creates an “abusive situation” for ratepayers.

“Profit belongs to a company that’s well-managed,” he said. “The study I’m proposing would determine if a takeover of New York American Water by the Suffolk County Water Authority is possible.”

Brooks has been in talks with the authority about a possible local takeover for the past year and a half, he said. He noted that the Suffolk agency is “exceptionally well versed” in handling master water systems, and that officials expressed interest in expanding into Nassau.

“We’ll also be looking at how tax grievances are handled by these agencies,” he added, “and the concept of whether or not a natural resource delivery system should be subject to taxes to begin with.”

The bill is currently being drafted in Albany, Brooks said, and among the questions being pondered is who would conduct the study.

Water activists in Merrick expressed support for the legislation. Dave Denenberg, co-director of Long Island Clean Air Water and Soil, said it made “good environmental sense” for Long Island to have a common municipal water provider. He claimed that having a singular water manager and supplier would cut down costs, and allow for a “unified approach” to address water quality issues such as contaminants and saltwater intrusion.

“The best answer for fair rates and proper water management would be a consolidated municipal water supplier for all of Nassau and Suffolk,” Denenberg said. “The water’s coming from the same aquifer, so it should be the same price.”

He also lauded Brooks’s proposal to seek tax exemptions for private water providers. Under state law, water companies that are regulated by the Public Service Commission, and that operate in cities of a million people or more, are exempt from paying property taxes. The law, however, does not apply to counties. So, a Nassau County-based water company like NYAW must pay property taxes, and that expense is passed on to ratepayers. LICAWS contends that if the law were amended, NYAW ratepayers’ water bills would drop.

Co-director Claudia Borecky said she, too, was unfazed by CCE’s cost analysis, as similar studies in the past have yielded comparable results.

“We don’t need another report to prove that investor-owned water monopolies charge many times more than municipally owned water suppliers,” Denenberg added. “The rate differentials are unfair, unconscionable and unconstitutional. This needs to be addressed by the state.”