Tightening Up The Monetary Valve

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Several local fire departments, including New Hyde Park, Floral Park and Stewart Manor are seeking a reduction in fire hydrant fees charged by the Water Authority of Western Nassau County (WAWNC).

At the most recent Stewart Manor village board meeting, Stewart Manor Deputy Fire Chief Tom Skinner said his department and the other fire departments want relief from the annual fee of $937 per hydrant that WAWNC is charging, up from $877 in 2013. He said there are 68 fire hydrants in Stewart Manor under WAWNC’s jurisdiction.

“We’re trying to talk to them,” Skinner said. “They told us they were willing to discuss it.”

Last week New Hyde Park Fire Commissioner Michael Bonura said his fire district is currently paying between $480,000 and $490,000 in its current budget for fees on 503 hydrants. He said the fire district’s current annual budget is approximately $3.5 million.

“We’re trying to get the cost of the hydrants lowered, because it’s a lot of money,” Bonura said.

Responding to the concerns of the fire departments, state Sen. Jack Martins and Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages have collaborated on bills they have introduced in the state Senate and Assembly to cap the annual hydrant fees at $200 per hydrant.

“Water districts and water authorities should not subsidize water rates for taxpayers by indirectly taxing taxpayers through our fire departments,” Martins said. “I don’t want to raise people’s water rate. But we shouldn’t raise water rates artificially.”

Martins said his bill passed in the state Senate last year. It is likely to pass again, so the question remains on whether the state Assembly this year, to go into effect in 2016. Solages said the legislation is intended to create “equity” among the water districts in western Nassau County.

“We are definitely in dialogue with the water authority,” she said. “Once the water authority has a hearing in the community, then they would have the ability to exceed the cap.”

Meanwhile, WAWNC is conducting a comprehensive rate study, according to its superintendent, Michael Tierney, to review all residential and commercial rates. Tierney said the $60,000 study being conducted by engineering consulting firm Dvirka & Bartolucci is expected to be completed this month.

“The rate study is going to look at our rates and see how we compare to our neighbors,” Tierney said. “We’re going to take a look at all our structure.”

He said he expects some usage rates will rise and others decline as WAWNC seeks to encourage conversation among its customers in New Hyde Park, Garden City Park, Floral Park, Stewart Manor, Elmont and portions of Garden City. He said the study will include an examination of the hydrant fee rates. Tierney said he anticipates meeting with chiefs from the local fire departments in WAWNC’s service area once he has the results of the rate study. Tierney said he had a meeting to discuss the hydrant fees with some of the fire departments last fall. A meeting scheduled last month between local fire and WAWNC representatives didn’t happen due to “miscommunication,” Bonura said.

“We have to figure out where this is going,” Bonura said. “What we have to find out is if they’re taking from us, are they going to charge the taxpayers?”

A source familiar with the situation said fees deferred from the fire department would inevitably paid by other rate payers. Tierney said WAWNC must cover the costs of its operations, which currently cost $15 million annually. “We are a not-for-profit organization. We have to collect the revenues to make this system work,” Tierney said.

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