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Water Woes In Nassau County: Frustrated Residents Look To Stop Flow Of Rising Rates

MERRICK, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- More than 100,000 Long Island residents were experiencing water woes with the threat of bills getting bigger yet again.

As CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported, people are tired of going with the flow.

Water is a pricey commodity in Merrick where Audrey Ciuffo, a retired school teacher, is awash in water bills that she says are four times that of neighboring communities.

"Their rates are very manageable and acceptable. These rates, it feels like usery," she said, "My January bill is $140 and my friend in East Meadow is $32."

The difference? She's among the ten percent of Nassau County residents who get their water from a private company -- New York American Water. The other 90 percent get water from public utilities.

"I think it's ludicrous that we are paying such high water rates already and they want a ten percent increase?" Adam Greenberg said.

Homeowners in the 44 south and north shore communities have long complained they're drowning in exorbitant rates, and now American Water has applied for a rate hike. They claim it's needed to pay for $150-million in capital improvements to fix aging, infrastructure, improve water quality and pressure, and pay for escalating property taxes.

"New York American Water remains committed to providing the diverse infrastructure upgrades necessary to maintain, and continue to improve, the delivery of high-quality drinking water that our customers expect and deserve. The capital generated from the requested rate increase will establish additional iron-removal treatment plants and ground storage tanks, and will continue to improve water quality and pressure. It will also be used to rehabilitate miles of water main, valves, service lines, wells and pumping stations throughout New York American Water's service area. These improvements are essential to combat the naturally-occurring iron content, as well as restore the aging infrastructure that affects all water providers throughout Long Island," New York American Water President, Brian Bruce said in a statement.

Angry residents said it's unfair to pass the utility's property taxes on to water customers. Public utilities are tax exempt.

"All utilities that are proving a necessity should be tax exempt. Otherwise you're left with an unconstitutional and unfair, illegal situation," David Denenberg, LI Clean Air, Water, And Soil said.

They're asking Albany to make utilities like New York American Water tax exempt, or at least return tax refunds to the customers.

"We seem to be paying for their taxes on their property, on their million dollar building, and it's just isn't fair to the average homeowner," he said.

The public has until February 10 to weigh in on the proposed rate hike. If approved, increased will vary by community, but in some cases bills could rise 130 percent.

The water company said the property taxes it pays on its facility are responsible for more than 20 percent of the requested rate hike.

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