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Gromack: O&R Doesn’t Deserve A Rate Increase

by Alex Gromack

Clarkstown Supervisor Alexander J. Gromack testified before the NYS Public Service Commission on March 28 concerning Orange and Rockland’s request for a rate increase.

I have to confess that I have mixed feelings about this hearing. With all due respect to the PSC Commissioners, I sincerely doubt whether anything that is said here today on behalf of the rate payers will have any real impact on the final rate decision.

I don’t think anyone in this room really expects the PSC to completely deny O&R’s rate increase. They will get a rate increase just like they got an 8.4% increase in electric rates for 2009, an additional 8.4% in 2010 and another 12.1% in 2011. They will get a rate increase just like they got a 9.7% increase in gas rates in 2009 and 2010 and 2011.  That is a 32% increase in gas over 3 years.

While municipal governments across our state are mandated to comply with a 2% property tax cap, our local Utility Company gets rate hikes that are almost 6 times over that cap.

Common wisdom use to say there were two things inevitable in life; death and taxes. Now it appears that there are three, death, taxes and O&R rate hikes.

In reality there are three stakeholders at this public hearing. There are rate payers who say no hike or at least no hike over 2%. Then there is O&R who wants as high a rate hike as they can get. Finally, there is the PSC who, after all the yelling and screaming by rate payers will award O&R a rate increase that will be lot closer to O&R’s original request than it will be to ratepayers request.

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This is what happens almost every time and unfortunately I don’t see any reason why it will change this time.

During and after Hurricane Irene and the October snowstorm, we heard our constituents’ outrage with Orange & Rockland’s response.  The October Northeaster storm left approximately 18,000 residents without power in Clarkstown.  Four days after the storm, 7,000 residents still remained in the dark and cold and as of six days after the storm 1,500 residents.  O&R’s storm response was totally inadequate and should be the subject of a PSC investigation.

After Irene, I met with O&R officials and demanded ways to improve their communication with our residents. Unfortunately, not only have their procedures not improved, but the lack of response to the October storm was worse than the previous storm.  Again, the PSC needs to conduct a review.

The Town of Clarkstown received hundreds of calls and e-mails from angry residents who were unable to contact O&R or who did not receive helpful or correct information when they did. Estimated restoration times were slow in coming, inaccurate and contradictory. There was a distinct lack of presence by O&R repair crews in the Clarkstown community until four full days after the storm.

The Town of Clarkstown deployed crews around the clock to open roads and assist O&R with their job to restore power.  We also opened warming centers to provide a refuge for our residents without heat.

Despite my numerous and continuous demands for additional crews to handle this disaster, finally, at my insistence, I was told that O&R deployed 70 crews in Clarkstown on the evening of the fourth day.  The fact that several days passed without a significant presence of repair crews is simply not acceptable.  Their righteous indignation in asking for a rate increase is simply adding insult to injury; we deserve a rebate, not a rate increase. Our residents deserve better, and the New York State Public Service Commission needs to hold O&R accountable and insure that the public is protected and receives the service they deserve and, in fact, pay for.

I will close my comments with two statements. First, O&R does not deserve a rate increase.

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Second, as I did in my State of the Town address in January 2012, I will continue to advocate for legislation providing for the direct election of PSC Commissioners that will truly represent the people. It’s time to change how this game is played.

Alex Gromack is the Town Supervisor for Clarkstown, NY.

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