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Queens water rates ready to rise again

Photo Illustration by Christina Santucci
By Phil Corso

As it has done every year since 1996, the city Department of Environmental Protection proposed another water rate hike for fiscal year 2014, bringing back the same old sentiments from borough officials.

The most recent increase on tap is plugged at 5.6 percent — a rate DEP Commissioner Carter Strickland championed as the lowest increase in eight years, thanks to the department’s focus on efficiency.

“We recognize that any rate increase can be a burden on our customers, and we will continue to look for ways to further tighten our belts and work with our regulators to reduce the burden of unfunded mandates so that New Yorkers get the best possible water and wastewater services at the most affordable rates,” Strickland said.

The proposed hike was actually lower than anticipated, Strickland said, because of various savings the department made through its budget.

According to the DEP, the proposed 5.6 percent rate increase would mean a $52 increase for single-family homeowners’ water and sewer bills over the course of the year. Multi-family units would also see a $34 increase over a year, the DEP said.

To put the numbers in perspective, the DEP said New York City’s rates were average when compared to other major U.S. cities such as Atlanta and San Francisco, whose growth numbers were 11.7 percent and 6.7 percent between 1999 and the present.

City Comptroller John Liu released a strong statement in response to another year of water rate hikes on behalf of those who could use that extra $3 to $4 every month.

“City Hall’s proposal to hike water prices yet again is yet another blow to struggling New Yorkers’ pocketbooks,” Liu said. “After astronomical rate rises of the past seven years, it is cold comfort that the proposed hike is ‘only’ 5.6 percent. Citizens should protest this proposed hike at the coming hearings.”

City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) said the word “outrageous” was not strong enough to describe his reaction to the hike, which he called a stealth tax increase for homeowners.

“The rates have gone up 65 percent in the last five years, and unfortunately we have no control over it,” said Vallone, who sits on the Council’s Environmental Protection Committee. “They come up with the same excuse every year, and homeowners should be furious.”

Last year, Liu said he believed an independent agency should oversee the city’s water rates to hopefully put a cap on the rising costs. Vallone also suggested perhaps changing the City Charter could serve as a potential fix.

The proposed 2014 water rate hike was the lowest since 2003, when the city upped the cost by 3 percent. Increases were in the double digits from 2008-11, until they finally hovered around 7 percent the past two years.

The city Water Board announced a public hearing for each borough over the next month, with the Queens date set for May 2 at 7 p.m. inside room E-242 of LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City.

The board said it would adopt the new water rate May 10, effective July 1.

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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