On Friday, May 15, the NYC Water Board trimmed its proposed 14 percent rate hike a piddling 1.1 percent. A 12.9 percent increase will take effect on July 1.
“What a bunch of baloney!” Community Board 11 vice chair Vinny Prezioso said. “Another rate hike? Tell the Water Board to take a hike.”
Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Steven Lawitts blamed the increase on a six percent drop in water use and costly capital projects like the Croton Filtration Plant. Last year, taxpayers shouldered an 11.5 percent increase. At a public hearing on April 27, Councilman James Vacca called Lawitts a hypocrite. The DEP asked Bronxites to conserve water; they did. Now it wants Bronxites to pay for it.
“Ridiculous,” Vacca said.
DEP spokeswoman Mercedes Padilla countered.
“A customer who conserves water will always pay less than a customer who doesn’t conserve,” she said.
According to Vacca, the DEP and the Water Board could have prevented a rate hike. Because the DEP generates revenue for NYC, it has escaped Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s across-the-board budget cut. But the revenue DEP generates comes from taxpayer wallets.
The typical NYC family will pay roughly $900 per year after the hike, an increase of $100. The DEP will absorb a five percent cut, Padilla said.
“The same people get hit again and again,” Vacca said. “Seniors. Homeowners. People on fixed incomes.”
At the April 27 hearing, Councilman Oliver Koppell asked the DEP to rev up water bill collection efforts. According to Koppell, the Water Board collects at 90 percent. If it collected at 98 percent, it would be $200 million richer. Last year, the DEP did rev up bill collection efforts, Padilla said. A lien sale netted the agency $100 million in 2008. There are now less water deadbeats, Padilla said.
Woodlawn taxpayer Ken Parr is furious. He and others have accused the DEP of fiscal mismanagement. The Croton Filtration Plant was supposed to cost $1 billion. Under the DEP, that figure has ballooned to $3 billion since 2003.
“I think we’re being ripped off,” Parr said.
NYC Comptroller Bill Thompson railed against the rate hike. The DEP collects more money than it needs, Thompson said. What’s left flows into the city’s general fund. According to Thompson, the DEP could have used federal stimulus money to prevent the rate hike.
The increase will hurt tenants, west Bronx housing counselor Sally Dunford said. To meet the rate hike, Bronxites who own two and three-family houses will raise rents.
“We’re going to see evictions,” said Dunford. “We’re going to see foreclosures. We’re going to see apartments doubled up.”