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Rockland Residents Fight Rate Hike

Joe Tarangelo of New City expresses his opinion during Thursday's rate-increase hearing for Orange and Rockland Utilities at Ramapo Town Hall.

AIRMONT - Citing the tough economic times, consumers spoke out Thursday against a proposed rate increase request by Orange and Rockland Utilities Inc.

Oscar "Bob" Terry of New City said he relied on a disabled-veterans pension and Social Security. He spoke of the frustration people living on a fixed income face in trying to manage household bills when costs increase.

"If we conserve like they ask us to conserve ... we wind up paying more because Orange and Rockland does not make the bottom line for their stockholders," Terry said. "It just seems like someone's got to haul in the reins on them."

Terry was among the consumers who delivered their remarks on the proposed rate increase in person or via telephone or e-mail during two public sessions overseen by Kimberly Harriman, an administrative law judge for the state Public Service Commission.

The PSC oversees utilities in New York.

O&R wants to increase the amount it can charge to deliver electricity to its customers.

On Thursday, company spokesman Mike Donovan said O&R was still seeking an overall 10.8 percent increase on a three-year plan that would increase a ratepayer's bill by $17.57 per month in the first year, $4.26 per month in the second year and $2.49 per month in the third year.

Donovan said ratepayers currently pay a monthly electricity delivery charge of $129.58.

Donovan said the rate increases are needed to ensure a safe and reliable system.

In case the three-year plan is not approved, O&R also proposed a one-year plan that would increase the monthly delivery charge by 6.5 percent, or $11.62, Donovan said.

Figures provided by the company last month, which estimated a $10 monthly increase, were preliminary, Donovan said. Figures provided Thursday were the updated numbers, he said.

Mary Jane O'Connor of New City, a member of the Concerned Taxpayers of Clarkstown, criticized what she called hidden taxes and surcharges in utility bills. She said her group would fight to get a law enacted to require itemized utility bills and to allow consumers to deduct those taxes on their income tax returns.

She, too, was critical of the PSC.

"Public Service Commission may be a misnomer," O'Connor said. "Perhaps you should change your name because I don't think we're being represented."

O'Connor, who is not a senior citizen, also spoke in support of seniors and of veterans.

"Some seniors are on the cusp of being able to get aid, but because they can't take off these hidden taxes and surcharges, they don't qualify," O'Connor said. "It's a tax. They have no choice and I believe that taxation without representation is still tyranny."

During a break in the hearing, Ramapo Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence criticized O&R on the grounds that it seeks too much return on equity and that its rate increases are excessive.

He opposes the rate increase and said O&R had no justification for it.

He criticized the company's annual $32 million dividend to parent company Consolidated Edison and its efforts to hire additional workers to conduct surveys, among other issues.

"The County of Rockland has a potential budget shortfall of $80 million and they increased (their tax revenues) $12 for the year," he said. "Here's a utility company that's already got guaranteed rates of return and they are asking for new employees, to add on $140 a year in delivery charges, and to have ratepayers cover other costs, including their benefits program."

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