DEP’s scaled-back water rate increase wins few admirers

City Councilmen James Gennaro (l.) and Mark Weprin speak to residents about the city's new automatic meter readers Feb. 16 at PS 178. Photo courtesy James Gennaro
By Rich Bockmann

The city Department of Environmental Protection is touting its proposed water rate increase of 7.5 percent as relief to customers, but not everyone finds that an easy pill to swallow.

“The water rates are just too damned high,” said City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens).

Water rates have climbed every year since 1996, and in the past four years the increases have been in the double digits. DEP spokesman Farrell Sklerov said that much of those increases can be attributed to federally mandated but unfunded construction projects, such as the Croton filtration, ultraviolet disinfection and Newton Creek treatment plants.

Last year the DEP projected an increase of 11.5 percent — 35 percent higher than the 7.5 percent the department proposed to the city Water Board last week.

DEP cited budget reductions, new wireless meter readers and increased water usage resulting from last year’s hot summer as factors contributing to the “significantly lower-than-projected rate proposal.”

Sklerov said the new meter readers allow for information on water usage to be updated every six hours as opposed to every three months when the department had to send someone out to read the meter. He said this allows for a much more accurate assessment and significantly reduced the likelihood of estimated bills and billing disputes.

In February, Weprin and Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) held a town-hall meeting following a series of complaints they received from the constituents regarding skyrocketing water rates.

“It’s suspicious that some bills went way up,” said Weprin. “It seems like they’re making much more money than ever. They call you on the phone and harass you with their automated calling system.”

Weprin went on to characterize the rate increases as a “backdoor property tax.”

Gennaro said he thought the DEP produced the lowest possible rate necessary to fund their operations.

Louis Martin said that when the new wireless meter reader was installed at his Hollis Hills home, his water bill nearly doubled.

“It was registering thousands of gallons in the middle of the night. [The DEP] told me I must have an intermittent leak,” said Martin.

The homeowner expressed frustration with the fact that he is required to pay for checking and recalibrating the meter.

The city Water Board will hold public hearings throughout the five boroughs before adopting the water rate. The Queens meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. May 10 at PS 499 at 148-20 Reeves Ave. in Flushing.

Last year the DEP proposed a 1 percent rate reduction for customers who signed up for paperless billing and direct debit payments. That was raised to 2 percent following the Water Board meetings and is proposed to be continued this year.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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