WEST NYACK —
Customers would see their bills increase more than 50 percent over a
three-year period if the state approves a rate increase requested
yesterday by United Water New York.
Claire Kennedy, a United Water customer who
lives in New City, was shocked by the amount of the request.
"Good grief," Kennedy said.
"That's a lot of money. That's a lot of percentage."
United Water provides drinking water to the
majority of homes and businesses in Rockland and serves Tuxedo in Orange
Michael Pointing, United Water New York's
vice president and general manager, said it was the first time in 10 years
that the company had requested a "full rate case" before the
state Public Service Commission, which oversees utilities in New York.
"The main reason for requesting this
increase in rates is due to United Water's investment in a variety of
water quality and water supply projects during the past decade,"
The company has invested $80 million in
infrastructure improvements since 1996, including $55 million in the past
five years, he said. The projects included adding a dissolved air
flotation system at the Lake DeForest reservoir in Clarkstown, bringing
the Letchworth Water Treatment system on line in Haverstraw, and
purchasing Potake Pond in Ramapo.
United Water now wants to recoup some of
those investment costs and use revenue generated by a rate increase to
help pay for new projects, Pointing said.
The company plans to spend an additional
$60 million in the next three years on various improvements that would
expand or update its infrastructure, he said.
The company has also faced increased energy
costs, along with increases costs for health care, pensions, insurance and
property taxes, Pointing said, and the rate increase is also being
requested to help the company meet those expenses.
The full rate case requests increases over
three years — 33.8 percent the first year, 7.7 percent the second year
and 5.1 percent the third year, United Water New York said. Compounded,
the increases add up to 51.45 percent more than the original rate.
The company said that because of various
billing structures based on water use, the percentage increase would not
translate into an exact dollar increase. For example, according to United
Water, residential customers using the average of 3,000 cubic feet —
22,500 gallons — of water per quarter would see their bills go up from
$114.75 to $150.84 per quarter. That could mean an increase over the first
year of almost $145.
County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef said
residents were going to have "sticker shock" when they learned
about the request.
"There have not been enough capital
investments in the past decade, and more money should have been spent on
improvements to the infrastructure," Vanderhoef said. "That's
why this increase comes as a much bigger surprise than it should."
The company said it waited a decade to
undertake a full rate case because it was expensive, but United Water had
provided good value for the money invested.
County Legislator Ellen Jaffee, D-Suffern,
said additions to the system would not ultimately solve water issues
confronting a county where development ran rampant and comprehensive
planning was virtually nonexistent.
"Costs are going to continue to rise
unless we control development and emphasize conservation," Jaffee
The company said it would step up
conservation efforts, which it has outlined in its rate request.
State Assemblyman Ryan Karben, D-Monsey,
noted that Orange and Rockland Utilities had also recently asked for an
"Folks are strapped for cash,"
Karben said. "It will be extremely difficult for them to absorb
increases in both of their major utility bills."
United Water spokesman Rich Henning said
the company understood the situation.
"These are certainly difficult times
for many people, but we have a responsibility to meet the needs of all of
our customers," Henning said.
Kennedy said that as a customer, United
Water had a lot to prove to her before she would consider supporting any
She would want to know about intended
improvements before she could stop feeling ripped off, Kennedy said.
"It's just too much."
Ann Dalton, a spokeswoman for the PSC, said
the rate review was an 11-month process that was overseen by an
administrative law judge. The public will have the opportunity to offer
written and spoken comment.