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Water rate hearing held; Bronxites hosed

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Rather than incur the wrath of taxpayers at an evening hearing, members of the NYC Water Board heard testimony at 2 p.m. on Monday, April 27. Councilmen James Vacca and Oliver Koppell joined 20 angry Bronxites to protest a planned 14 percent rate hike. Last year, taxpayers shouldered an 11.5 percent water and sewer hike.

“When is it going to end?” asked Community Board 11 vice-chair Vinny Prezioso. “Forty years ago, I had no sewer. I had a cesspit. I wish I still did.”

Chalk the hike up to operating costs, a six percent drop in water use and a batch of costly capital projects like the Croton Filtration Plant, said Department of Environment Protection Commissioner Steven Lawitts, who slipped away from the hearing after ten minutes. Vacca objected. The rate hike contradicts Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s vision for a “green” NYC, the east Bronx councilman said. Bloomberg begged Bronxites to conserve water; they did. Now the DEP wants Bronxites to pay for the revenue shortfall.

“Outrageous,” Vacca said. “All this green NYC talk…much ado about nothing. The DEP has some nerve.”

Vacca accused the DEP of fiscal mismanagement. So did Maya Homics of Kingsbridge. The Croton Filtration Plant was supposed to cost $1 billion, Homics said. Under the DEP, that figure has ballooned to $3 billion since 2003.

“It’s not fair or just for you to pass on to homeowners water and sewer rates that you calculate based on what the DEP claims it needs,” Homics said.

Water and sewer rates have climbed steadily since 1984, when Albany created the Water Board. In 1995, NYC began to install residential water meters and promised to halt the hikes. The water rate was $1.01 per cubic foot; today, it’s $2.31. According to Lawitts, a typical NYC family will pay $911 a year after the hike, an increase of only $112.

On April 28, Vacca sent a letter to Bloomberg and asked the mayor to slash the DEP budget. Because the DEP generates revenue for the city, it has escaped Bloomberg’s across-the-board cut, Vacca said. Twenty councilmembers signed the letter. A 7.5 percent cut at DEP would yield $60 million against the rate hike.

“The path is clear,” Vacca said. “No rate increase.”

Koppell suggested that the Water Board rev up bill collection efforts. According to the Riverdale councilman, the Water Board collects at 90 percent. If the Water Board collected at 94 percent, it could shave 4 percent off the hike, Koppell said. According to Vacca, the hike will hurt low-income and elderly Bronxites most. Landlords pass rate hikes on to tenants.

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