Letter to the Editor: Act Now on Water Rates

by Jim Buckley

Dear Editor:

Last Thursday morning, the New York City Water Board held borough hearings at Lehman College about a rate increase and some billing policy changes. Four Bronx residents spoke at the hearing. I’m not writing to talk about the response to the hearing. I’m writing to urge people to say something now by phone or by mail to the Water Board (718-595-3601; 59-17 Junction Boulevard, Queens, NY 11373) and to the mayor (212-788-9600, City Hall, New York, NY 10007) and to our City Council members.

The Water Board is considering a 6.5 percent rate increase to take effect on July 1. They will finalize the increase at their May 3 Water Board meeting.

In addition to the rate increase, they are voting on several billing policy changes that could have a major impact on water users. The most notable one would expand the Department of Environmental Protection’s ability to turn off water service for non-payment. Under current rules, in single- to five-family homes, there must be one delinquent charge open and unpaid for at least three years; in six or more family buildings, there must be one delinquent charge open and unpaid for at least two years. The new proposal would allow termination of service if there exists either at least one delinquent charge of at least $1,000 open and unpaid for at least one year or accumulated delinquent charges of $10,000 or more.

The Water Board representative who was present explained that the 6.5 percent increase is in part due to the success of conservation efforts. Since the Water Board has to cover all the water systems’ costs with rates and since the system is primarily a metered system, a reduction in water use actually results in the need for an increase in rate to generate the income necessary to pay for the operation of the system and the debt on the system. He also stated that their intent was not to use the increased turn-off powers on residential properties.

The hearing served as a fresh reminder of a couple of things and a wake-up call on a third thing. First, the potential impact on rates if the city continues to proceed with filtration plans that will increase the debt obligations of the Water Board.

Second, the insanity of a completely metered water billings system, and third, the importance of not accepting a turn-off policy without clearly spelled out rules and regulations. While I do not question the Board representative’s integrity, the fact is that he may not be the one making the decisions on turn-offs in the future.

As I suggested earlier, I am urging people to contact the Water Board, mayor and the City Council to urge them to reject the rate increase and any modifications on turn-off policies. For more information, you can look at www.unhp.org under the Section entitled “Recent Updates: Water Board Rate Hike Hearings.”

Jim Buckley

The writer is executive director of University Neighborhood Housing Program.