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Water District superintendent explains why residents are seeing a new $80 fee on bill

Riverhead residents opening their water bills recently may have raised their eyebrows at seeing a new $80 fee imposed by the water district.

Though the Town Board approved rate hikes along with the new surcharge in July, they asked Water District Superintendent Frank Mancini to explain the surcharge again to residents at Thursday’s work session.

“The purpose of the rate increase is to fund our existing capital improvement plan,” Mr. Mancini said, noting that his office has received a flood of phone calls from confused residents.

Town officials also clarified Thursday that residents do not have to pay the $80 all at once, but are able to split it into four quarterly payments of $20. “I think that was the confusion,” Mr. Mancini said, adding that due to outdated equipment, he was unable to provide further explanation on customers bills.

As for the timing of the new charge, Mr. Mancini said it was implemented in the fourth quarter to give customers flexibility in paying it off. “You’re going into your two short winter billing cycles that are generally less than half of our summer cycles,” he said.

The board adopted the $80 surcharge as well as changes to the rate structure—the first increase since 2016—in July. Officials estimate the increase will generate an additional $1.6 million per year. 

“All of the water districts on Long Island are having to do the same thing,” said Councilwoman Jodi Giglio. “We’re still paying less than our competitors at Suffolk County Water Authority.”

Mr. Mancini said it’s a “difficult” time in the water business as regulatory guidelines become stricter and Riverhead contends with dire infrastructure improvements that have been put off.

But he noted that the prior administration was not “dormant,” but rather underfunded and had to take on projects needed simply to meet demand.

“Without [the surcharge,] we wouldn’t be able to fund our projects,” he said Thursday. “And that’s what’s put us in the position we’re in now. We need to stop the bleeding and get these projects done so we can make improvements to the district. And we’re on our way.”