DEP: Water Rate Hike Talks Are Premature

BY JOE MARVILLI
Staff Writer

While there has been some talk of increases to the water rates for Queens residents, the Dept. of Environmental Protection says there are no plans to further hike costs this year.

The DEP outlined that while it had recently enacted a rate hike of 5.8 percent this past July, it will not consider another increase until next April, when it will review its finances and look into setting a rate.

The 5.8 percent water rate hike that took place this summer was the lowest increase in eight years, according to DEP director of communications, Christopher Gilbride. That number is down from the seven percent hike that went into effect last year. The jumps were in the double-digits for 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. These large boosts have added up to a 78 percent increase since 2005.

Gilbride added that no further increases will take place this year, as the rates are set at the same time each year.
“Rates are set once a year in April. [The board] votes on it in May. If approved, it goes into effect in July. We have no plans to set a rate until spring,” he said.

At the moment, the average amount a single-family homeowner pays is $991 per year.

Gilbride said that the water rate increases have not been as drastic the last couple of years because of new technology and other money-saving methods the DEP has undertaken.

The automated water meter readers that have been installed allow the DEP to more accurately follow how much water Queens homeowners are using. The system is digital, cutting down on the need for estimating a rate when someone comes by to read the meter and no one is home. The meter also has a leak notification system that lets the DEP tell customers if there is a water leak costing them money.

The new meters have cut down on the amount of appeals from citizens about how much they are paying. The 4,306 appeals filed last year is the lowest amount in six years.

The DEP says it has saved homeowners $39 million since the system went into place, with a 62 percent reduction in bills.

Some organization and refinancing of the City’s water agency has also helped to lower costs. The operating budget has been cut down by four percent, saving more than $15 million. The rental payments that the DEP owes the City for use of the water system have been capped, saving the agency another $12 million.

One of the most expensive thorns in the agency’s side has been mandated projects. These are operations that the federal government requires to be done, but does not help with in terms of funding. Between 2002 and 2012, 60 percent of the DEP’s spending was mandated, which it said cost the average homeowner an extra $258 on his or her water bill. The agency is working with the government to reduce those mandates and build them on its own timeline.

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