“You could die of dehydration and your water rates would go up.” – Councilman Jimmy Vacca
After years of water rate increases that have outstripped inflation, one local elected wants to make the New York City Water Board aware of how people feel about what he and others call a “hidden tax.”
Councilman Jimmy Vacca is working on getting a City Council resolution passed that calls on the Water Board to initiate a two-year freeze on any further increases in water rates.
The resolution would be non-binding, explained Vacca, since all direct power rests with the Water Board, whose members are appointed to two-year terms by the mayor.
“Water rates have gone up almost 80% in the past six years, and it is uncontrollable,” said Vacca. “I have introduced a resolution to cap them and stop the increases.”
Water rates increased every year under Mayor Bloomberg’s 12-year tenure, though Mayor de Blasio proposed a modest 3.35 percent increase. Vacca called de Blasio’s proposal a “step in the right direction.”
Not about conservation
Vacca called water rates a “hidden tax,” as well as one of the most regressive taxes because it disproportionately affects people such as seniors who may live on fixed incomes, and others just managing to pay their bills.
Unlike property taxes, with specific breaks for veterans and seniors, there are no such breaks on water and sewer bills, Vacca said.
“Everyone pays the same amount of money for water, whether they make $300,000 a year or $25,000,” said Vacca. “This is the epitome of a regressive tax.”
Originally, water usage rates were based on how much frontage a homeowner had. Then in the 1990s, when water meters were introduced, people were told that if they conserved water they would save money based on how much water they used, Vacca said, charging “This is not about conservation.”
Housing costs up
In a letter complaining that rate hikes are driving up the cost of housing, Vacca recently told Water Board Chairman Alan Moss that “You could die of dehydration and your water rates would go up.”
Mary Jane Musano, a Waterbury-LaSalle Community Association board member, said rate increases are one of many factors tearing apart the middle class.
While the Water Board holds hearing in the Bronx every year, Musano said “They already know what they are going to do and they get their rising rates.”
Vacca said that aggressively pursuing scofflaws who do not pay their water bills but continue to get service might be one option to halt the dramatic increases in water and sewer rates. Community leader Bob Bieder, an owner of Westchester Square Plumbing Supply in Zerega, is pushing a conservation angle – not to benefit the environment so much as to help save money.
He is urging landlords and individual homeowners to convert to low-flow shower heads, toilets and fixtures.
With improvements in these fixtures over recent years, “you can conserve 40% of you water usage and not even notice the difference,” said Bieder.