Community Leaders Upset With Water Rates

BY JOE MARVILLI
Staff Writer

Queens civic leaders are feeling drowned by a proposed increase in the City’s water rates.

On April 23, the City proposed a 3.35 percent increase in water rates, the smallest annual hike in nine years. While the number is lower, many civic leaders and elected officials are still upset that after years of percentage increases in the double digits, the City is asking for more.

Although there is a rate hike this year, the Dept. of Environmental Protection stated that it is less than half of the projected 7.8 percent increase that was expected. The reduction was achieved through cost-cutting measures and by redirecting part of the excess rental payment that had been adding to ratepayers’ bills.

Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) is at the forefront of the protests against the water hikes, saying that it is unfair for the City to put forward yet another increase, after years of double-digit percentile jumps.

“Middle class homeowners, co-op and condo owners and small business proprietors expect that New York’s new, ‘progressive’ government will make the City fairer and more affordable for us, too,” said Lancman. “But the proposed rate increase only means that we will continue to be gouged through a dishonest and deliberately opaque water rate system.”

Civic leaders also attacked the proposed hike.

“Based on the Water Board’s own charts, the water and sewer rates, compounded over the last decade, are 2.5 times higher for this essential service,” Queens Civic Congress president Rich Hellenbrecht said. “Most homeowners in Queens have seen huge increases in home ownership costs including real estate taxes and oil and insurance costs, at a time when income has risen only a percent or two a year.”

Since former mayor Michael Bloomberg took office, the City’s water rate has cumulatively gone up by 165 percent.

“Many people are living paycheck to paycheck and cannot bear any further hits to their income,” Angela Augugliaro, president of the Queens Colony Civic Association, said. “Water is a necessity and shouldn’t be held hostage for ransom.”

The DEP argued that it has put several cost-saving measures in place to keep the rate as low as possible. Through 75 belt-tightening initiatives, the DEP said it would save about $69.4 million per year. The widespread installation of automated meter reading devices resulted in a 79 percent reduction in estimated bills since 2009.

To further help customers, the DEP is proposing to freeze the minimum water charge of 49 cents per day for those who use less than 100 gallons per day. A Home Water Assistance Program is being created to identify low-income homeowners who would be qualified to receive an annual credit on their DEP bill. The agency is also extending the deadline for customers to file an appealing with the Water Board to 60 days.

“We are able to deliver the lowest rate increase in nearly a decade,” DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd said.

The water board will vote on the water hike on May 23. The Queens hearing is on May 20 at 7 p.m., at the Bayswater Jewish Center in Far Rockaway. If that location is too difficult to get to, the hearing in Brooklyn is on May 14 at 7 p.m. at the Visitor Center of Newtown Creek, less than a mile away from Queens.

Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, jmarvilli@queenstribune.com, or @Joey788.