Fees Flood Water Meeting

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Hydrant fees addressed at

animated meeting

Local fire officials and members of the board of directors of Water Authority of Western Nassau County clashed over the current level of fire hydrant fees at a meeting in New Hyde Park Fire Department headquarters on Thursday, June 6.

Sources of what some participants considered a “private” meeting, said it was a frequently acrimonious and animated discussion between the fire officials and Reid Sakowich, the New Hyde Park representative on the water authority board and Marianna Wohlgemuth, the Town of North Hempstead board representative.

“The tension still remains over the way they bill the fire departments for the hydrants and the fire departments’ objection to the fees. Nothing really was resolved. It was just another airing of the same positions,” said William Grogan, a Stewart Manor trustee and fire department member who attended the meeting.

The water authority board voted late last month to raise overall water rates by 8.41 percent for the 2015-16 fiscal year and freeze annual hydrant fees at $936. Local fire officials want to see those fees cut to the $200 level they say most Long Island fire departments are currently being charged.

Grogan said the water authority board members presented a history of the hydrant fees and cited the water authority’s need to make capital improvements. He said the fire officials articulated their case for reducing hydrant fees.  

Wohlgemuth said she and Sakowich told fire officials they would meet again in September to revisit the hydrant fees after the water authority board has reviewed the final version of the $60,000 water rate study the board commissioned from engineering consultants Dvirka & Bartilucci. Sources say the draft study recommends an increase in the hydrant fees to $1,100.

Last month, the New York State Senate passed a bill introduced by state Sen. Jack Martins to cap hydrant fees statewide at $200 per year.

“The object of the legislation was to spur the discussion. We managed to do that.

There was a commitment made by the water authority that they would go back and review rates,” Martins said.

Martins stated the discussion at the meeting “got heated” but representatives of both sides were able to have “a very candid conversation amongst themselves.”

Grogan said fire officials were expecting state Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages at the meeting to report on the status of a similar bill she has pending in the state Assembly.

“They were waiting to hear whether her bill was going to be introduced,” Grogan said. “They’re not sure what the future of that bill is because she didn’t show up.”

Solages could not be reached for comment.

Grogan said he’s concerned about his village’s ability to cope with the “escalating” water rates and hydrant fees while it wrestles with the proximate 2 percent state-mandated tax cap.

Three of the five Stewart Manor trustees attended the meeting. But before Martins arrived, a fire official asked a reporter at the meeting to leave, saying Sakowich insisted on a “private” meeting or the water authority board members would not stay. The reporter complied with the request.

Sakowich could not be reached for comment after the meeting. Neither could Stewart Manor Mayor Gerard Tangredi or Deputy Mayor Michael Onerato, who also attended the meeting.

New Hyde Park Fire Commissioner Michael Bonura, who attended the meeting and has slammed the increasing hydrant fees, also was unavailable to comment.

He has said the New Hyde Park Fire Department is currently paying $480,000 per year for 503 hydrants.

Tom Skinner, deputy chief of the Stewart Manor Fire Department, declined to comment on the meeting. But he made his position clear at last Tuesday night’s Stewart Manor village board meeting.

“They’re hiding the water bill in the hydrant tax,” Skinner told the Stewart Manor trustees.

Skinner said his fire department’s hydrant fees had risen 87 percent since 2003, from $500 to the current $936.

Representatives from fire departments in Floral Park, Elmont and Bellerose were also at the Thursday night meeting.

After the meeting, Wohlgemuth reiterated her position that hydrant fees should rise along with all other rates.

“It has to be paid for. If the residential customers don’t pay for the water, the hydrant fees have to pay for it. If we don’t get it from Peter, we’ll get it from Paul,” Wohlgemuth said.

Wohlgemuth, who voted against the rate increase because the hydrant fees were frozen and left in limbo, said the water authority’s 2015-16 budget of $15.46 million is a “tight” one.

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