Boro officials criticize Water Board’s rate hike

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Over the objections of many elected officials from Queens, the city Water Board voted Friday to approve the 14.5 percent rate hike it had proposed last month, the third double-digit rate increase in three years.

City Council members such as Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), David Weprin (D-Hollis) and John Liu (D-Flushing) and City Comptroller William Thompson have protested the rate hike because a rising percentage of the money it is to bring in will go into city coffers instead of fixing and improving water and sewer infrastructure.

"The Water Board admits we're being overcharged," Thompson said Friday at a breakfast meeting in Rego Park with local community leaders. He said last year's 11.5 percent rate hike sent $80 million of the revenues into the city's general fund and that this year's hike would do the same for more than $100 million.

"Last year was the biggest rate increase since 1972," he said.

Gennaro and Weprin have been outspoken critics of the city's practice of transferring a rising percentage of the revenue raised by water rates, which used to be put toward paying off debt incurred more than 20 years ago by city water and sewer projects.

Gennaro said that last year even Water Board Chairman James Tripp had expressed in writing his reservations about the practice, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg refused to step in and stop it this year.

"The Water Board completely caved in to Mayor Bloomberg's unfair and outrageous policy of diverting water rate revenues into the city's general coffers," Gennaro said. "This was notwithstanding the official written sentiment of the Water Board itself and of 41 members of the New York City Council opposing this highly questionable practice. The mayor had a chance to do the right thing here and refused to. This is the Bloomberg administra­tion's own little Watergate."

Quinn said a rate increase should be a last resort, not an annual practice.

"It's time for the [city] Department of Environmental Protection to start looking for other ways to maintain services without passing the extra costs onto consumers," she said. "Whether that means restructuring their lease agreement, finding ways to cut expenses out of their budget or moving their capital expenses to a more appropriate agency, everything should be on the table."

Liu slammed the rate hike as a "regressive tax."

"Charging people for tap water became a necessary evil in order to fund maintenance of the city's water supply and infrastructure. However, the practice has morphed horribly into a general revenue source hidden from the public review, with three double-digit yearly increases," Liu said. "Water rates should be no higher than the amounts to keep our water safe and flowing, and the proposed hike should have been flushed."

Updated 6:58 pm, October 10, 2011
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