OP-ED: Middle-Class New Yorkers Deserve A Fair And Transparent Water Rate

BY COUNCILMAN RORY LANCMAN

Queens water users will be dismayed to learn that after record increases in water costs over the past decade, rates are scheduled to go up yet again next year – and it’s all because the City is siphoning water revenue away from the Dept. of Environmental Protection and into the City’s general fund. This administration’s recent decision to continue the stealth tax and charge taxpayers $152 million in excess to the cost of the City’s bills waters down New York’s new ‘progressive’ agenda and leaves middle class homeowners out to dry.

Since 1984, the City has demanded “rent” from the Water Board to pay off the debt on its water and sewer infrastructure. Prior to 2005, the City’s demand had always equaled the cost of its debt service on City bonds. However, a legal loophole has given the City opportunity to ask for more than that of its debt obligation, and in recent years, the demand for rent has increased, with the excess revenue funneled into the City’s general fund.

6 opEd LancmanIn the last decade, astronomical water tax increases have been used to prop up the general fund, and costs have trickled down at the expense of everyday New Yorkers. In many of the last 10 years, water rates have increased by double digits, and have cumulatively increased by an incredible 165 percent since Mayor Bloomberg took office.

In 2011, then-Public Advocate Bill de Blasio called the practice a “hidden tax,” “wrong” and something that “has to stop.” For this reason, I was extremely disappointed to learn that the current administration is yet again demanding a rental payment in excess to the cost of the City’s relevant water and sewer infrastructure. For fiscal year 2015, the Water Board – and New York City water users – will have to pay approximately $183 million – or $152 million more than the approximate $31 million the City needs to pay off its debt. The Water Board is proposing to raise water rates this year by 3.35 percent, or approximately $120 million across the board.

In other words, the entire water rate increase is attributable to the City’s excessive rent demand.
Over a month ago, at a City Council Committee on Environmental Protection hearing, Dept. of Environmental Protection representatives conceded that the City has the authority to lower its annual rent payment demand to the Water Board. Since then, I have joined Queens’ homeowners, co-op and condo owners and small business proprietors to ask for relief by charging only the amount required to pay off the City’s debt service.

Our current water rates gouge taxpayers through a system that is dishonest and deliberately opaque. The Water Board will make a final determination on the water rate after a series of public hearings that conclude in late May. The City still has a month to throw a lifeline to middle class homeowners and reconsider its decision. We have a responsibility to help New Yorkers keep their heads above water, and on behalf of Queens water users, I’m calling on the City to do just that.

Councilman Rory Lancman represents the 24th Council District.