2007-04-18 / Editorials


Fight Hike In Water Rates--Attend DEP Hearings

For the second time in two years, the New York City Water Board has proposed imposing a rate hike on the city's homeowners. In 2006, after five sparsely attended hearings were held in each of the boroughs, the board succeeded in getting approval for a 10 percent rate hike. This year, another rate hike is proposed, this one for 11.5 percent- the largest since 1992.

We agree that it costs money- serious money- to manage the city's reservoir system upstate. In order to keep the New York City water supply of good quality, development on the land surrounding the reservoirs must be kept to a minimum. Large tracts of land that could be used to the city's profit for housing and other purposes remain relatively untouched so that runoff into the reservoirs is largely free of contaminants. While leaving the land surrounding the reservoirs in as pristine condition as possible doesn't come cheap, ensuring that the water supply at the reservoirs remains as clean as possible under the circumstances also means that the city is spared another expense: that incurred by the need to build costly filtration plants for the water supply.

Maintaining and adding to the city-owned land in the upstate watershed has also garnered federal approval. According to a story in a daily newspaper, last Thursday the federal Environmental Protection Agency ruled that New York City has sufficient safeguards in place to maintain the quality of its water supply and does not need to build an $8 billion water filtration plant. Building such a plant would necessitate an immediate hike in water bills. Even though the city is required to spend at least $300 million over 10 years to acquire land in the upstate watershed to preclude development near the reservoirs, spending that kind of money over that long a period of time will prove far less painful to New York City residents.

Given this development, we find it unreasonable to even consider imposing an 11.5 percent water rate hike on city homeowners, especially since they were hit with a 10 percent increase only a year ago. Owning a house in this city is an expensive proposition to start without having to calculate how much every glass of water or load of laundry will cut into one's budget. Nor will single-, doubleor triple-family homeowners be the only people affected by a water rate hike. Renters and condominium and co-op owners will also have to pay more, through increases in rents or maintenance fees. Living in New York City will be more expensive. Eventually, it could be so expensive, in fact, that the city may be faced with losing even more of its rapidly diminishing middle class, a situation that will have only undesirable consequences.

Water is a necessity, points out City Councilmember John Liu, and rightly so. While it is possible to live without food for some time, without water, humans will die within days. While everyone has to pay for most of life's necessities- food, clothing and shelter as well as water- Liu called the prospective water rate increase a de facto tax hike, and one that hits city residents especially hard because water fees are not tax-deductible, unlike property and income taxes.

Councilmember Tony Avella, who is sponsoring two resolutions, in the council, one calling for the abolition of unfair minimum water and wastewater charges and the other the introduction of a senior citizen discount to ease the burden on homeowners throughout the city, agreed, calling the imposition of "yet another huge rate increase on residents who are already struggling to cover evermounting expenses absolutely unfair" and adding that instead of increasing fees, the Water Board should direct its efforts toward cutting administrative costs and collecting overdue bills from delinquent accounts.

In 2006, Water Board hearings concerning the 10 percent rate hike were held in all five boroughs. Whether out of ignorance of the times and places where they would be held or indifference to the prospect of a rate hike, the sessions were sparsely attended and the rate hike passed unnoticed- until homeowners received their bills. In contrast, Avella has indicated he plans to attend the Queens Water Board hearings next Tuesday, April 24, at 59-17 Junction Blvd., 6th floor, Corona, from 1 to 3 p.m. We urge all of our readers who are able to attend the hearings as well. Especially in light of the federal EPA relieving New York City of the prospect of an $8 billion kick in the wallet for an unneeded filtration plant and the 10 percent water rate hike imposed only last year with little or no opposition, now is an excellent opportunity for all concerned citizens to make their voices- and opinions- heard.

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