BY MICHAEL RICONDA
New City – State Senator David Carlucci (D – Rockland/Ossining) joined Rockland homeowners in New City on July 8 to request the New York State Public Service Commission’s opposition to a proposed United Water rate hike.
“They’ve got to stick up for the ratepayers and not the utility companies,” Carlucci pleaded. “We’re here to say today to the Public Service Commission that we’re pleasing with you to say ‘no.’”
If approved, the new charge would increase residents’ water bills by $12 per month for an annual total of $144.
The proposed rate hike comes only a few weeks after a separate United Water request for a $4.95 monthly surcharge, which was announced in mid-June. According to the utility, the surcharge is meant to fund pre-construction work on the controversial Haverstraw desalination plant, a proposal which, in and of itself, has generated strong criticism from county and state lawmakers.
In total, water bills under the two proposals could reach around $880 annually, an expense which Carlucci explained would detrimentally affect the county by impacting quality of life and discouraging residency.
“If we make the rates here unaffordable, no one is going to be able to stay here, we’re not going to be able to create jobs, and we’re not going to have the quality of life that Rocklanders deserve,” Carlucci argued.
Carlucci also explained his advocacy of a ratepayer advocate position with the public service commission to represent utility customers in determinations such as rate increase proposals and made the case that the PSC should make its process more accessible for ratepayer input.
Complaints from residents were not only limited to the rate increase, but also included accusations of retroactive utility fees based upon estimates of lost revenues, a lack of transparency and rubber stamp approvals from the PSC. Rockland resident Orrin Goetz explained the increase was not only steep, but unjustified given that United Water’s desalination plant has not received final approval yet.
“To charge us for an increase to pay for that when it has yet to be approved is quite a bit outrageous,” Goetz said.
With the request, Carlucci and local residents also joined a chorus of recent United Water critics including State Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski and County Legislator Alden Wolfe, who both expressed skepticism and opposition toward the initial surcharge.
This is not the first rate increase United Water has levied in recent years. In July 2010, a three-year rate plan increase was approved by the PSC, with a $76.43 increase in its first year, a $100.04 increase in its second year, and a $106.28 increase in its third year.
Many residents, including Rockland Water Coalition member Bob Dillon, worry past and present increases reflect a continued upward trend.
“I think we’re heading down the road of much higher rate increases if the project is improved,” Dillon warned.
United Water has justified the surcharge in the past by arguing the increase would keep future costs down and was needed to pay for the $50 million it has already spent to get approval for the desalination plant. The new rate, they claim, reflects a need to expand its base revenues by $21.3 million to cover $80 million recent infrastructure improvements in Rockland and Orange Counties.
If approved, the $12 monthly increase will go into effect in June 2014 and the $4.95 increase will go into effect this August.