Playing politics with New Yorkers’ water rates is nothing new for the city. Mayors have often raised water rates after pledging not to.
Last year, Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed a scheme to raise rates even when no increase was needed, and then handed certain New Yorkers a credit, but not others. Even by these low standards, what is going on this year is unseemly.
With summer approaching, New Yorkers still do not know if the mayor will direct the NYC Water Board to raise their rates in the upcoming fiscal year. This delay is extraordinary: A water rate recommendation is typically made before the Council’s Executive Budget hearing in May to give Council members the opportunity to question the Department of Environmental Protection and the administration.
In pushing back the decision to propose a new water rate, the mayor’s strategy seems to be to do everything possible to avoid tough questions from Council members about any unnecessary increase. This might be useful to his re-election campaign efforts, but it is a terrible way to govern — and leaves New Yorkers in the dark.
All the mayor needs to do is look at the facts and he will see the obvious: There is no justification for raising New Yorkers’ water rates this year. The DEP testified at two City Council hearings this year that no additional revenues are needed to maintain or operate the city’s water and sewer system. In fact, the cost to run the system has gone down.
Despite this, New Yorkers have ample reason to be concerned that the de Blasio administration is itching to hit ratepayers with another rate hike.
Just last week, the mayor’s Water Board held a public meeting where no action was taken on water rates as of yet. Following the meeting, the Water Board issued a statement that “the FY 2016 Rate Schedule will remain in effect until further notice.”
It does not take a rocket scientist to see through the Water Board’s verbal gymnastics. Stating that FY16 rates will remain in effect “until further notice” is political speak that a water rate increase could be on the horizon.
This is completely unacceptable. New Yorkers are more than willing to pay their fair share for quality water and sewer systems, but they should not be expected to pay more than it actually costs to maintain and operate the system. That is common sense.
Unfortunately, the mayor’s decision-making on water rates all too often has defied common sense and sound public policy — all in the name of politics.
Ratepayers have had enough political games. That is why I stood with Queens ratepayers and civic associations this week to demand the mayor not raise New Yorkers’ water rates this year. Our message to the mayor was straightforward: No more backdoor taxes. No more political schemes. No more pitting one group of New Yorkers against the other.
Mayor de Blasio would be wise to listen to ratepayers’ pleas and end the political games on water rates.
Rory I. Lancman
City Councilman (D-Hillcrest)
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