After losing the first round of a lawsuit filed by the East Williston Village Board over last year’s hike in water rates, the Williston Park Village Board went ahead and voted unanimously to raise water rates for Williston Park and East Williston residents at the conclusion of a sparsely attended public hearing on Monday night.
Williston Park village attorney James Bradley reported on Monday that Judge R. Bruce Cozzens recently issued a decision in Nassau County Supreme Court supporting East Williston’s position in the lawsuit it filed earlier this year contending that a public hearing should have preceded last year’s rate increase to $3.83 per 1,000 gallons.
“The judge didn’t address any of their other arguments. The judge said there had to be a public hearing before there could be a rate increase,” Bradley said. “He did not say it was unjustified. He did not say it was something that the village could not do.”
Bradley said he has been authorized by the Williston Park Village Board to file an appeal to the decision issued by Cozzens.
The rate changes implemented Monday raised Williston Park residential and commercial rates slightly from those originally proposed at a June 12 hearing. Wholesale rates for the Village of East Williston were lowered slightly in the wake of an analysis submitted by Guastella Associates in response to a June evaluation of water rates the Williston Park trustees commissioned from consulting engineers Dvirka & Bartilucci, and a revised evaluation of rates for both villages that the firm produced for the board in July.
“We relooked at their concerns and came back with the rate we’re proposing tonight,” Williston Park Mayor Paul Ehrbar said.
Ehrbar said board members considered a last-minute report submitted by Guastella Associates on behalf of East Williston on Williston Park’s latest rate proposal. Guastella Associates, had produced a water rate study that both villages commissioned jointly in 2006.
Williston Park’s proposed schedule of rate increases pushes the wholesale rate Williston Park is now charging its neighboring village up 13 percent to $4.33 per 1,000 gallons of water from the current $3.83 per 1,000 gallons of water. The rate increase initially proposed in the Dvirka & Bartolucci report was $4.41 per 1,000 gallons. Imposition of the $3.83 rate last April – from the $2.99 per 1,000 gallons rate that preceded it – precipitated the lawsuit filed earlier this year in which East Williston contended the rate increase was “arbitrary or capricious.”
“In the interest of being fair and reasonable, the village of Williston Park thought it could make some concessions,” said William Merklin, vice president of Dvirka & Bartolucci.
A meeting held Friday between representatives of both village boards failed to produce a compromise that satisfied East Williston, according to East Williston Trustee Robert Vella Jr.
The original report stated that $546,525.43 in water charges to East Williston would represent 33 percent of the village’s total cost for water service compared to $1,107,985.24 to cover 67 percent of the costs for Williston Park itself. That report also proposed a 12.2 percent increase for residential and commercial users in Williston Park.
For minimal residential usage up to 10,000 gallons, that evaluation set a rate of $38.90 up to 10,000 gallons, a residential rate increase to $3.89 per 1,000 gallons from the current $3.47 for 10,000 to 50,000 gallons, a rate of $4.06 per 1,000 gallons over 50,000 gallons and commercial rates of $43.00 up to 10,000 gallons and an increase to $4.30 per 1,000 gallons from $3.83 over 10,000 gallons.
The revised Dvirka & Bartolucci report sets 13 percent increases in Williston Park for a minimal residential rate of $39.20 up to 10,000 gallons, a rate of $3.92 per 1,000 gallons between 10,000 and 50,000 gallons and a rate of $4.09 per 1,000 gallons over 50,000 gallons.
“I’m disappointed,” said Vella, who successfully interceded at the June 12 to delay a vote, enabling a meeting about the rates between officials from both villages and the opportunity for East Williston to provide comments in the form of a report from Guastella Associates.
“I think that the fundamental difference between our two villages is that we disagree with how Williston Park allocates their cost to distribute water to East Williston,” Vella said. “It doesn’t cost them the same to give us water as it does to give water to their own residents.”
In his initial analysis of the first Dvirka & Bartolucci evaluation of water rates, John Guasatella, president of Guastella Associates, said the wholesale rate Williston Park should charge East Williston was $3.52 per 1,000 gallons. The Guastella report estimated revenue from East Williston should be calculated at $487,602 per year, $123,198 less than the $611,000 calculated by Dvirka & Bartolucci. He described a 12 percent surcharge included in Dvirka & Bartolucci’s calculations as an “arbitrary and excessive shift of costs to East Williston.”
Guastella said the Dvirka & Bartolucci analysis incorrectly allocated the cost of water mains in the Williston Park water system as transmission and distribution plant costs. His report said they are for distribution only, and those costs should not be included in calculating a wholesale rate. His report also said the Dvirka & Bartolucci report used the wrong percentage to determine general plant costs.
“Our residents are going to paying a hard rate. We in turn have to build in our own infrastructure and administrative costs,” Vella said, adding that those costs could raise the new water rate Williston Park is imposing by as much as 25 percent for East Williston residents.
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