Suffolk Water Authority to hike average bill 3.77% starting June 1

The Suffolk County Water Authority board of directors on Thursday approved rate and service charge increases that will hike average customer bills by 3.77% or around $1.56 a month, starting June 1.

The new standard rate for most residential water users jumps to $2.119 per thousand gallons, from a current $2.028 per thousand. The quarterly service charge jumps to $29.17 per quarter, from a current $27.91. The water quality and treatment charge holds steady at $20 per quarter.

The authority also announced that it raised the threshold for its so-called conservation rate for customers who use more water, typically in the summer, in a way that addresses what had been an unusually large number of high-bill complaints last year.

Starting June 1, customers will not incur that higher conservation rate until they use more than 89,760 gallons. Currently, the threshold is 78,540 gallons.

Last year, 7,441 customers filed high-bill complaints with the water authority, a 35% jump compared to 2019, most of it tied to the conservation rate, and higher summer usage.

One customer who complained about a high bill last year applauded the new higher threshold.

“That certainly is encouraging,” said Donald Kirby of Mattituck, who last year complained after receiving a bill for $779 after the authority said he had used more than 273,000 gallons between May and August. “Maybe those complaints didn’t fall on deaf ears and they realized they should do something about adjusting the threshold.” He continues to dispute the amount.

Still, typical residential customers who reach the new threshold will pay slightly more for that water: $3.057 per thousand gallons, from a current $2.925 per thousand gallons, the authority said.

Jeff Szabo, chief executive of the authority, said the higher rates this year were tied to the higher “cost of doing business,” including replacing or repairing aging infrastructure, treatment costs, and increasing water supply sources, particularly on the East End.

The water utility also announced a new balanced billing option to help smooth out bills over the course of the year, including through summer spikes. Other utilities such as LIPA have long had balanced billing.

“We listened to our customers very carefully,” said authority chairman Patrick Halpin, in an interview. “It will make it a lot easier for people who prefer to have those costs spread out over time” while addressing typically higher summer bills.

Consultants had recommended the authority hike rates higher — from 5.9% to 7.4% — but the utility was able to find efficiencies to keep the overall rate increase to just 3.77%, said spokesman Tim Motz. The increase for most users will amount to around $18.72 a year.

Raising the threshold for the conservation rate, combined with balanced billing, was the result of the authority “listening to our customers,” Halpin said, noting that 70% of water usage happens in the summer.

Last year, around 100,000 of the authority’s 400,000 customers reached the conservation rate threshold, officials said. Raising the threshold will help reduce that number, said Halpin, who added the authority has been encouraging customers to use tools like smart-water sensors to reduce water consumption tied to irrigation.

The Suffolk County Water Authority made news earlier this month when it filed a proposal with the state Department of Public Service that laid out a plan for its potential operation of all or part of the territory now owned and managed by New York American Water. The authority proposed creation of a new Nassau County Water Authority that it would manage under contract, at a savings compared to the current system. The state plans to present findings of a study of a possible public takeover of the New York American Water system April 1. Halpin said the Suffolk Authority is up to the job.

“There’s no question we have the capability to operate that and do it as efficiently as it can possibly be operated,” he said.

Overall bill increase amounts to an average 3.77% increase, or around $1.56 per month

Quarterly service charge increases to $29.17 from $27.91

Increases the threshold for the higher conservation rate to 89,760 gallons, from 78,540

Introduces new balanced-billing option to smooth bills over the course of the year

New rates take effect June 1.

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