Electeds, residents pan Liberty Utilities’ proposed water rate hikes

Electeds, residents pan Liberty Utilities’ proposed water rate hikes
Liberty Utilities is proposing a scale of water rate increases throughout it's three districts in Nassau County. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Liberty Utilities is proposing as much as a 43% rise in water rate hikes in its three Nassau County water districts, and politicians and residents alike are denouncing the move as greedy behavior and asking for a public takeover of the organization’s Long Island operations.

“The right to clean, affordable water—that is a human right,” New York State Assemblywoman Taylor Darling (D–Hempstead) said. “This rate hike is an attack on that right, and it will most harshly impact those with the least.”

Elected officials, candidates and residents affected by the proposed increases gathered outside Liberty’s Merrick plant  Sept. 12 for a rally to urge the state’s Public Service Commission to deny the rates.

The rally came before the Public Service Commission’s Wednesday hearing, which drew 62 online, public comments overwhelmingly opposed to the rate increases.

Liberty, formerly New York American Water, is a private water company that services approximately 123,600 customers among its Lynbrook, Merrick and Sea Cliff Operational Districts.

The company is proposing 39%, 42% and 13% rate increases for the Lynbrook, Merrick and Sea Cliff Districts, respectively, which it says is necessary to offset new costs.

“The increase that Liberty is seeking is far greater than what is reasonable and would harshly burden customers who are already being overcharged for water,” Nassau County Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D–Glen Cove) said. “The Public Service Commission has the power to protect ratepayers from exactly this kind of an unreasonable demand. It is our true hope that the PSC will step in and do what is needed to protect our constituents.“

The rate increases, if approved, would be implemented by March 31.

Officials and candidates at the rally, in tandem with denouncing the rate increases, called for a public takeover of the company in order to provide cheaper water to district residents.

Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages (D–Valley Stream) said that a rate hike may jeopardize the opportunity for a public takeover.

“This rate hike demonstrates that Liberty is emboldened and plans to maintain its control over our water infrastructure,” Solages said. “That is why I am calling on the PSC to reject this rate hike and why I am calling on the state to enact utility reform. We have to rein in these private utilities.”

The path to making the water company public began Nov. 3, 2021 when New York State passed the South Nassau Water Authority Act. This act created the South Nassau Water Authority, along with the legal power to acquire Liberty’s assets.

But officials say that progress has been halted due to a lack of state funding and minimal action by the water authority.

The Public Service Commission has not made a decision on the matter as hearings for the rate increases are still ongoing.

In the meantime, local legislators say they are committed to continuing the fight against the proposal.

“As Liberty Water continues to rake in tremendous profits on the backs of Lynbrook and Merrick District ratepayers, I find it hard to believe that an increase of any amount is appropriate or prudent,” Nassau County Legislator Debra Mulé (D–Baldwin) said. “I urge the Public Service Commission to reject any rate increase until Liberty Water publicly offers a convincing rationale for asking hardworking ratepayers to dip even further into their family budgets for this vital resource.”

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