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Vacca, community leaders oppose water rate increase

Councilman James Vacca, joined by a busload of committed community residents, trekked to the Manhattan College campus on Monday, May 5, to personally inform members of the New York City Water Board that he strictly opposes this year’s 14.5% water bill hike, and does not see the need for any hike this year based on available data.

 “Well, I’m here again,” Vacca sighed at the start of his third Water Board hearing in two years. “I’m here again because in the last seven years, our water rates have gone up 77%, and I’m here to say that that kind of increase is intolerable, and this year’s increase is simply unacceptable.

 “We’re raising these rates over and over again on the same people,” he said, noting that the latest rate hike proposal comes as food, gasoline, and utility prices have reached all-time highs and many homeowners are facing the risk of foreclosure. “It looks like everybody is ganging up on the little people.”

Vacca was joined by a lively contingent of community residents that included Tony Cannata, president of the Waterbury-LaSalle Community Association; Dorothea Poggi, president of Ferry Point Community Advocates; and representatives of the Throggs Neck Home Owners Association and the Pelham Bay Taxpayers and Civic Association.

The local leaders lamented that when the city mandated the installation of water meters less than 10 years ago, officials promised that homeowners would be able to save money by conserving water. Instead, rates have gone up every year, negating any savings a homeowner could achieve through conservation.

The Bronx hearing, the first of five being held in every borough, took place just hours after the city’s Independent Budget Office released a report titled Water and Sewer Rates: Factors Driving the Increases and Options for Reductions, which offered a list of proposals to reduce the proposed hike.

Among the recommended strategies were: ending a practice by which the Water Board overpays the city for renting the water-delivery infrastructure; scaling back nonessential capital projects; restructuring debt; and subjecting the Water Board and the Department of Environmental Protection to the same budget cuts as all other city agencies.

Some or all of these steps are necessary, Vacca said, in order to prevent the Water Board from coming back every year with higher and higher rate increases. He noted that the Board is already proposing a 14% hike for next year and a 12% hike for 2011, and that the Mayor and City Council must work together to avert those cost increases.

 “If you continue along this trend,” Vacca told the board members at Monday’s hearing, “water will be viewed as a luxury, and not the necessity it is. We urge you to hold the line, and we believe you have the wherewithal to provide relief to homeowners and tenants who are already struggling to keep up with so many other rising costs.

 “Our middle class cannot afford to be soaked by yet another unfair tax.”

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