Ruling in water suit expected soon

Bill San Antonio

The resolution of a lawsuit brought by the Village of Plandome last October against its longtime water supplier, the Manhasset-Lakeville Water District, is expected within the next few months, according to the water district’s attorney.

“We’ve filed the paperwork and are waiting to hear the court’s decision,” said water district attorney Christopher Prior in a phone interview.

The village is suing the water district in Supreme Court over the way the district calculates its water usage. The village claims that the water district’s methods as “unreasonable, arbitrary and otherwise improper,”  according to an October 2012 statement issued on its Web site. 

The water district has denied the village’s claim, saying that its prices are fair.

“MLWD believes it is unfortunate for the taxpayers of both MLWD and the village to incur large legal expenses because of this action taken by the village board of trustees,” Prior said in a statement to Blank Slate Media. “MLWD was approached over  20 years ago to supply water to the village when the late Mayor Brian Vincent and the village trustees sought an alternative to making the necessary investment in its own water supply system. As a result, the village has been able to provide, at a reasonable cost, water which meets not only the Nassau County Health Department requirements, but also New York State and federal standards.”

Village of Plandome attorney John Ritter declined to comment on the case.

The village purchased water from the Manhasset-Lakeville Water District under a 20-year contract from 1992-2011, according to Prior, and continued to purchase water from the district under a new arrangement that began in January 2012. 

On its Web site, the village argued that because it purchases water on a wholesale level, as opposed to at retail value, it should be considerably lower. The village said North Shore University Hospital’s water rate is lower, even though it purchases water at retail value and also receives other benefits and services from the district. 

Prior’s said that as an accommodation, the district agreed to a revised flat rate of $3.85 per thousand gallons, without increase, during the last five years of the initial contract, a figure lower than the contract formula’s rate. 

When the contract ended on Dec. 31, 2011, the village continued to purchase water from the district. Prior said the district sent the Village of Plandome two letters, in February and July 2012, reconstructing its water rate and explaining the mathematical formula that determines the figure.

Prior said discussions between the village and the water district broke down because the village insisted that the rates be based on actual expenditures rather than a pre-determined budgeted amount set by the district.

“The village raised new objections to the proposed MLWD water rate formula,” Prior said. “It became apparent that the village would oppose any increase in the water rate. In fact, the village began to press for a water rate lower than the rate in effect from 2007 through 2011.”

Prior said Plandome’s 2012 water rate increase was only 35 cents per thousand gallons greater than its previous water rate, which had been unchanged for five years. Over a five-year period, the average annual increase amounted to 1.76 percent, he said. 

“Meanwhile,” Prior said, “the property taxes collected from in-district property owners, and the water rates paid by in-district consumers, were increasing.”

The Manhasset-Lakeville Water District serves 45,000 customers using 18 separate wells located at 13 different sites throughout the 10.2 square mile Manhasset-Lakeville service area, according to a statement from superintendent Paul J. Schrader on its Web site. 

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