Community outrage at water hike proposal

Double digit increases in water bills in each of the last four years have many homeowners fed up. That sense of outrage at another 12.9% proposed increase for next fiscal year brought out a large showing to a public hearing held at P.S. 14 that included both the Water Board and Department of Environmental Protection.

The mandatory hearing with the DEP and Water Board, the two governmental bodies that devise water rates, was held on Thursday, May 6. It brought out groups and concerned citizens from all over the borough. DEP Commissioner Cas Holloway and four members of the Water Board listened to hours of testimony from people from all communities and walks of life.

Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, Councilman James Vacca, and a representative from Councilman Oliver Koppell all opposed any double digit hike, especially at a time when seniors will received no increase in their social security benefits for two years.

“We have been able to control crime, drugs, the worst fire, and even smoking in bars, but we have not been able to control water rates in New York City,” Vacca said in his testimony. “We need a water board that has consumers on the board. We need an independent board.”

Vacca added in a dramatic moment: “We could die of dehydration, and our water bills would go up.”

DEP Commissioner Holloway said that the agency is facing $322 million shortfall for fiscal year 2011, which begins on July 1. He also said that the proposed increase was about 1.4% less than had originally been anticipated. DEP is planning to reduce its workforce by about 214 workers, and that along with different kinds of savings have been able add up to $85 million.

Some people testified that they are being penalized even if they conserve water. This is because if revenues fall, the DEP must make up for the shortfall, they argued. Holloway said that the planned 12.9% rate increase is due in part to a 5% reduction in the amount of water used last year, which is about 375 billion gallons, because of an unseasonably cool July and August.

Many want to see the DEP raise funds in others ways.

“We put in water meters, are prudent, and conserve,” said Theresa Ninivaggi, of Throggs Neck, who attending the meeting with her husband Nick. “We think the rates are too high. Maybe if they went after the people who owed them money, they wouldn’t have to raise rates in the double digits again.”

Others are worried how the water rates will affect businesses on shopping strips.

“The homeowners are going to pay when they shop in the community,” said Throggs Neck Merchants Association president John Cerini.

While some vowed to fight on, many said that they thought the fight was meaningless.

Benedetto said that these kinds of rate increases endanger the middle class in the city.

“The DEP should improve the way it does business,” Benedetto said in his remarks. “These rate increases are close to breaking our backs.”

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