By Mitch Jones
In the wake of the defeat of its plan to build an unnecessary desalination plant in Rockland County, United Water New York finds itself under investigation by the New York Public Service Commission (PSC). The reason? Alleged financial impropriety. In other words: while United Water executives have been partying, ratepayers have been picking up the bill.
According to news reports, the company reported a “$7.1 million ‘misstatement’ of revenue” between 2010 and 2014. The “misstatement” led to three United Water New York executives losing their jobs.
A new report by a local NBC affiliate uncovered even more odd expenses. The company paid close to $80,000 for private school tuition for executives’ kids. On top of that, it paid $16,000 a month to rent a house for its CEO, Bertrand Camus, despite the fact that Mr. Camus is both the CEO of United Water and of its parent company, Suez Environment North America. Surely he can afford to pay his own rent.
But what’s even more ridiculous is that the company spent about $6,000 for golf balls in 2012. Keep that in mind the next time someone tells you about the efficiencies of the private sector.
While the company was paying for these perks for its executives, it was seeking outrageous rate hikes for its customers. The company asked for a 28.9 percent rate increase this summer. Thankfully for its customers, New York PSC refused to grant such a large increase and approved one for 13.3 percent instead. During the proceedings on the rate increase, the PSC questioned expenses reported by the company for “holiday parties, award events, gifts, etc.,” as well as for a “wives breakfast” (seriously?) and for alcohol for corporate parties. Ratepayers shouldn’t have to pay more for their water service so that United Water New York can throw itself boozy parties.
Of course, United Water New York didn’t see any problem with including the parties in its request. It told the PSC that it would “provide more benefits than cost.” I doubt your typical Rockland County ratepayer benefits more from a corporate “wives breakfast” than it costs.
We shouldn’t be surprised at this behavior. We’ve chronicled United Water’s failures for years as it attempts to make a profit out of privatizing water service. But lack of surprise doesn’t mean a lack of outrage. For the increasing rates that they’re paying, United Water’s customers deserve better.