May 3, 2017 -- At a public meeting hosted by the Glen Head Glenwood Civic Association Council at the North Shore High School Theater on Tuesday night, several dozen residents gathered to discuss water service issues that have rankled residents since New York American Water assumed control over the Sea Cliff Water district in 2011.
The meeting was presided over by George Pombar, President of the collection of civic associations that cover most of Glen Head and Glenwood Landing. Oyster Bay Water District Chairman Robert McEvoy was on hand to offer his opinion on water service issues and to provide figures regarding costs if residents in the Sea Cliff Water District sought to purchase the infrastructure and assume control of the district.
During his remarks, Mr. Pombar said that he believed there were three main issues of concern facing residents - the high rates charged by the company in general; the company’s recent application to the Public Service Commission to raise rates; and the efforts of New York American Water to replace the current water tower on Dumont Place in Glen Head.
Last fall, customers received notification from the water company that they would be paying a surcharge of about $320 per year as a result of an increase in the company's tax bill.
With regard to the proposal for a new water tower, Mr. Pombar said that the Civics’ efforts to get the Company to rethink its proposal have paid off.
“They are going back to the drawing board,” he said, regarding the tower’s design which had originally featured a wide concrete column topped by an even wider shiny silver cylindrical tank.
According to Mr. Pombar, the company has also said that the cost will be between $3 and $3.5 million - not the original $5 million figure that had been offered as an estimate this past winter.
Mr. Pombar did not have kind words for the company, saying that “they don’t have a clue on financial issues.”
As for State officials, and in particular members of the State Senate and Assembly who represent this area, Mr. Pombar said that they have been largely unresponsive, with the exception of Ed Ra (R-AD 21), and of little help in addressing concerns with the company and the public service commission.
The Civics President expressed his belief that the best option to solving the water company issues was for the community to purchase the water district and run it as a municipal utility as is done in other districts such as Jericho, Oyster Bay and Roslyn.
“There is no choice but to get rid of them,” he said of the for-profit corporation. “There’s no incentive for them to keep costs in check.”
Mr. McEvoy offered figures on what he believed the likely cost would be if the community chose to take over the company. Estimating the infrastructure at $15 million, and adding borrowing costs, with an interest rate of 3.75% over a 30 year term, he said the typical resident with a home assessed at $500,000 could expect to pay approximately $118 annually; or $157 per year if the infrastructure and water company properties were purchased for $20 million. Adding operating costs, he said, those residents would likely see water district charges on their tax bill of about $338 and $373 respectively per year. Additionally, residents would of course be billed separately for water usage.
Mr. McEvoy explained that the Sea Cliff District would not have to merge with another district such as Jericho or Roslyn, but could operate as its own special district with responsibility for maintenance and operations contracted out to a service provider.
As for the process of taking over the district, Mr. Pombar said it would take time - perhaps as long as five years, and that it would require costly legal counsel.
Residents in the district, which in addition to Glen Head, includes Sea Cliff, a small portion of Glen Cove, and parts of Old Brookville and Glenwood Landing, would of course have to give approval through a public referendum.
Mr. McEvoy said that the purchase would work much like an eminent domain case with the company likely to dispute the appraisal of water company properties and infrastructure, which after being adjudicated would most likely result in a compromise over the price the community would have to pay.
Comments from residents centered mainly around taxes.
One resident asserted that it was unfair for the company to pass its taxes onto customers when customers have no choice but to purchase their water from that company. With other businesses, he explained, if customers are unhappy with an increase in charges, they can go somewhere else.
Another asked how much the company pays each year.
Mr. Pombar replied that it is about $2 million per year to the school district alone.
Another community member asked if the schools would lose that revenue if the community took over the water district, or if it would be picked up by other taxpayers.
Mr. Pombar said it would be picked up by other taxpayers.
Another resident said that he believed the obligation would initially be shifted to other properties in the utility class, but with a change in the base proportions, could ultimately shift to the two residential tax classes and to commercial properties. He pointed out that state law limits that shift to 5% per year, and that for the past several years, an amendment to the law has been passed limiting the shift to 1%.
Another resident said that the advantage to the infrastructure and service charges included in one’s tax bill, rather than the case now as part of one’s water company bill, is that it could be used as a deduction to reduce one’s income tax.
As the meeting neared its conclusion, Mr. Pombar asked for a show of hands to indicate support for a community takeover of the district. About 90% of those in the audience raised their hands.
“Let’s not let our imaginations get too carried away," said one audience member in response to the vote, "until we get a good look at the hard numbers.”
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