Water Authority of Westsern Nassau County approves 8 percent rate increase

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The Water Authority of Western Nassau County on May 26 approved an 8.41 percent rate increase for residential, commercial and fire department customers to fund the authority’s five-year, $50.2 million plan to replace aging infrastructure and install filtration systems..

According to water authority officials, the average yearly residential charges, based on a usage of 103,600 gallons per year, would increase from $402 to $436. The yearly charge for the average commercial customer, based on a usage of 461,700 gallons per year, would increase from $1,638 to $1,775.

The authority’s nine-member board of directors, which is composed of representatives from the towns of North Hempstead and Hempstead and the six villages within the water district, including New Hyde Park, approved the new rates by an 8-1 vote.

Marianna Wohlgemuth, the representative from the Town of North Hempstead and the lone dissenter on the board, said the capital plan is essential to repairing and replacing aging infrastructure and installing the water filtration systems necessary to put the seven out-of-commission wells back into service.

The authority’s superintendent, Mike Tierney, said seven of the district’s 24 wells are out of service primarily due to plumes beneath the wells containing contaminants.

“Ideally, you want all 24 wells at least available in service, and by having that, you can have more maintenance and you can also manage expenses (better),” Tierney said. “If we have a hot summer or an (additional) well that goes out, we could have an issue.”

Among the capital projects, including air strippers and iron removal systems to treat wells with plumes and water main replacements, is a multi-million dollar initiative to rehabilitate the water tower and well in New Hyde Park.   

The authority increased water rates to pay for the $73.6 million in bonds issued to finance its capital plan, officials said, though Wohlgemuth added that some of that money was used to refinance pre-existing bonds, a move that saved the authority millions of dollars.

The authority’s total annual budget is about $16 million per year, she said.

The authority is also reviewing a rate study by D&B Engineers and Architects that looked into restructuring rates to encourage conservation, water officials said.  Board members recently received a draft of the study.

The study explored changing the rate tier system to have the rate per gallon increase as usage increases, as opposed to the current tier structure, which decreases rates as usage increases.  A change could encourage conservation, officials said.

Wohlgemuth said she supported including a proviso in the rate increase approved by the board that would have said the rates were temporary until the board reviewed the study and scheduled a hearing to potentially adjust prices.

“Every other district I spoke with, the more you use, the more you pay per gallon,” she added. “Right now our existing structure is the more you use, the less you pay, which philosophically is probably not a good policy.”

The decision not to include the proviso, she said, was the reason she voted against the rate increases, though she supports the increases themselves as well as the authority’s spending plans.

“The capital plan I support, I supported all of that, but I feel that our rates — the existing rates — that were put in place should have had the proviso that it was temporary until we have an additional rate hearing once that cost of service study is reviewed,” Wohlgemuth said.

The other board members also supported adjusting prices based on the study’s findings, but did not feel the provision was necessary, according to Wohlgemuth.

“When it came time to vote for the rates, I voted no because I felt the resolution should have included a proviso until we have a possible rate hearing at the end of the year or the beginning of next year,” she said. “If it’s not in it’s out, so I can see it next May we’ll be having this discussion again…I’m concerned we may not have a rate hearing and these rates will be set in stone.”

The Water Authority of Western Nassau County serves more than 28,000 customers in the incorporated villages of Bellerose, Floral Park, New Hyde Park, Stewart Manor and South Floral Park; the unincorporated areas of Elmont, New Hyde Park and Floral Park Centre; and portions of Garden City, Valley Stream, Franklin Square and North Valley Stream.  

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