Tag Archive | "Water rates"

Water Rates Increase has Bronxites Irate

The panel sat facing the angry Bronx crowd gathered in the hall of P.S. 14 on Thursday night. After the commissioner of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection used bar graphs and pie charts to explain why residents would have to pay 12.9 percent more for their daily water usage, resident after resident stepped up to vent.

“You have put our backs to the wall,” said Ethel Walsh. “We are living on fixed incomes that don’t go up.” Walsh has been retired for nearly 12 years. Reliant on Social Security benefits, she says the increase will take even more money out of her purse. Housing expenses increase by an average of 3 percent every year. The proposed increase in water rates would add much more to that rate.

With nothing but glasses of cool clear New York City drinking water as a distraction, Mehul Patel and Alan Moss listened intently and took notes. Both were appointed as voting members of the Water Board, and along with four other members, they will decide whether the increase will be implemented by the Department of Environmental Protection. The Water Board sets the water and sewer rates for the city.

Walsh says her bill has gone up every year, so much so that she doesn’t even look at it anymore. Her husband, James, refused to attend Thursday night. “He says this is a done deal,” Walsh said. Walsh thinks her testimony won’t really change the panelists minds, still she wanted to make sure the Water Board understood her anger. “Shame on you, shame on, shame on you,” Walsh shouted, jabbing her pointed finger at the panel.

Voting members of the water board, Mehul Patel and Alan Moss listen to residents complaints against the proposed water rate increase(Lynsey Chutel/The Bronx Ink)

Voting members of the water board, Mehul Patel and Alan Moss listen to residents complaints against the proposed water rate increase(Lynsey Chutel/The Bronx Ink)

“You are the group of guys who do the voting,” Tony Cannata said. “I’m asking you to really listen, to consider what people said.” As president of the Waterbury-La Sale Community Association, Cannata attended an earlier hearing in April and was skeptical that the voting members would pay attention to community needs.

Michael Vivian waved his bill at the panel. He received it on the same day he received the notice of the public hearing. With a water bill of $80.86 for his 47.32 cubic-foot water consumption, the increase will make his bill just under $90 a month in 2011.

Water rates are already high in the Bronx because homes are larger in the borough, according to the University Neighborhood Housing Program, a non-profit affiliated with Fordham University. The group surveyed 919 housing units in the mainland borough and found that the average water bill was $934.20 per unit per year. The average water bill in the city was just over $700 annually.

Johanna Kletter, financial director of the housing program, reminded the panelists that she had submitted alternative strategies to the DEP, with little feedback. “Two years ago we released a study calling for reform and asking the important question: Can NYC achieve affordable water rates, promote conservation and control capital costs” Kletter said at the hearing. “No, no, no has been the answer to this question for far too long.”

In a press release the Department of Environmental Protection said that the 12.9 percent increase was an improvement on the 14.3 percent increase that was projected in 2009. “Clearly it is hard on customers to pay more, especially during tough economic times,”  Cas Holloway, commissioner of environmental protection, said in the press release that first announced the proposed increase. “Still, we must continue to fund critical projects that protect our drinking water and effectively treat the 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater that New Yorkers produce every day. New York City’s water is safe, healthy and high in quality. Keeping it that way requires substantial investments.”

The DEP intends to complete three plants by 2011. The Croton Filtration Plant will cost households $33 a year, the Ultraviolet Disinfection Plant $18 a year and the Newtown Creek Treatment Plant $48 a year. As of 2011, these plants and other federally mandated investments, will account for $177 of the household water bill every year.

But many in the audience felt that the DEP was using the rate increases to raise its revenue. “Bluntly, water rates are now just one more revenue stream for the city’s general budget,” Frank Vernuccio Jr. said. “The board itself admits to a $194 million straight transfer of funds to the general city budget.”

Vernuccio argued that New York City had seen harsher economic climates and that a water rate increase was unnecessary because residents had already tightened their belts to save money. New Yorkers had decreased their daily water consumption from 200 gallons per capita in the 1990s to 155 gallons in 2001, Vernuccio said. Currently, he said, New Yorkers consume four gallons less than the national average. “New Yorkers have done all that was asked of them,” Vernuccio said amid applause from the audience.

This story was corrected to address the following errors and clarifications:
Cas Calloway is the commissioner of environmental protection, not the executive director. A water bill of  $80.86 would be about $90 with a 12.9 percent increase;  and the Water Board sets the water and sewer rates for the city.

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