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A lower-than-expected water rate hike is still too much for Queens residents already drowning in bills.

The New York Water Board will adopt a 7.5 percent rate hike approved by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on Friday, May 13. The rate hike will go into effect on July 1.

Assemblymember David Weprin introduced a bill in January that if passed, would cap the annual water rate increase to a maximum of 5 percent – or the current inflation rate. Weprin said that even with the Water Board’s 7.5 percent increase, he will still fight to push his bill, Assembly Bill 2672, through for next year.

“We have to do something to limit these rate increases,” Weprin said. “The middle class is being squeezed and it’s getting out of hand.”

Supporting Weprin’s bill, Councilmember Dan Halloran said that a water rate hike could prove to be devastating to working families.

“High water bills hit middle class families and homeowners in forms of higher rents and maintenance fees,” said Halloran. “They’re another hit to the already-vulnerable pocketbooks of Queens families, who are struggling to make ends meet as it is. By limiting the amount the rate can go up every year, we will force the Department [of Environmental Protection] to tighten its belt and cut waste on the massive projects that have put it in this situation.”

The 7.5 percent increase in the water rate makes 2012 the 15th consecutive year with a rate hike – though this year’s is far less than last year’s 12.9 percent hike.

DEP Commissioner Cas Holloway said that the department took steps this year to reduce costs and that is why the hike is so much lower than last year. Holloway said that the DEP initiated an 8 percent budget reduction in 2011, saving approximately $76 million per year. He went on to say that this year’s 7.5 percent hike reflects the amount of additional funding the DEP needs to cover its budget.

“When I became commissioner last year, I committed to take every reasonable step to keep water rates as low as possible – and still meet DEP’s fundamental obligation to deliver high-quality drinking water to nine million New Yorkers, and treat 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater that the city generates every day,” he said. “That task is particularly challenging given that federally mandated, but unfunded construction projects account for nearly 72 percent of DEP’s capital commitments since 2002. This has driven up our annual debt service costs by approximately $700 million over the same time period – and unsustainable pace for New Yorkers who are struggling to make ends meet.”

Halloran said that is the main reason he is throwing his support behind the bill.

“Queens homeowners are paying for the cost of overruns on billion-dollar filtration plants,” said Halloran. “The city must be responsible with the taxpayer’s money, and this bill will make that happen.”

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