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Stop annual water rate hikes: Reps

Among the biggest debtors to the Department of Environmental Protection are the Electchester housing complex in Flushing and Forest Hills' Parkway Hospital, according to published reports.The announcements of water rate hikes are to become an annual event, according to City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), who has fought each increase on the grounds that a growing percentage of the money brought in goes into the city's general fund instead of paying for water and sewer improvements. The rates are to rise another 14 percent in 2009, 11 percent the following year, and so on, the councilman said.Gennaro, who is chairman of the Environmental Protection Committee, had a graph showing that almost one-third of the proposed rate hike is to go to the general fund, while the rest goes to pay off debt the city incurred prior to 1985 in constructing and improving water and sewer service. In the future the ratio of money going to the city will grow as the payment of old debt decreases. By 2015, the pre-1985 debt is to be paid off and all the money raised by rate hikes is to go into the general fund, Gennaro said."The reason the increase is so high is $89 million of the increase gets diverted to the city for general revenue," he said. "The city is taking the water and sewer revenue and using it for non-water and -sewer purposes."Another reason the rate increase is so high, Gennaro's office said, is that the revenues brought in by the Department of Environmental Protection's crackdown on delinquent water and sewer accounts is less than the agency was anticipating thanks to payment programs and discounts offered to homeowners, and big accounts that have not paid. One of the largest accounts owed to the city belonged to the Electchester co-op housing complex in Flushing, which last week gave a $212,663 down payment to DEP, about 10 percent of the $2.2 million it owes the city, the New York Post reported. Parkway Hospital declined to confirm the $930,458 outstanding bill reported in the Daily News, but said it does "owe some back money in water bills and we are honing it down and negotiating a settlement."Gennaro has been campaigning to stop this practice on grounds that it is a dishonest way to raise money for the city and hits lower-income New Yorkers hardest."New Yorkers all pay the same for water, but some use more than others" such as working families who stay in the city all year, Gennaro said. "When people pay their water and sewer bill, they have a right to expect it to pay for water and sewer, and it should go to maintain the water and sewer system."City Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis) slammed the rate hike as a burden."We are at a critical point in New York City Ð gas prices are up, the cost of goods and services are up, and people through out the city are losing their homes. Now they want to soak homeowners with another double digit increase, when will it stop?" he askedDEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd said in a statement that her agency knew the hike was a burden on Queens residents."Even though the growing cost of building and maintaining infrastructure is well known, DEP recognizes that any rate increase will be significant for our customers, particularly now," she said. "Under the new rate proposal, the average single family homeowner will pay $200 a quarter next year as opposed to $175 a quarter this year."The rate hike follows an 11.5 percent rise announced in May 2007, and the Water Board sought an 18 percent adjustment last fall which the City Council and mayor nixed.Reach reporter Alex Christodoulides by e-mail at achristodoulides@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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