Council members from Queens urge de Blasio to readjust water rates

By Tom Momberg

The city’s Department of Environmental Protection proposed a 3.24-percent water rate increase to the city water board in late March, but several Queens lawmakers are upset over yet another expected increase for residents.

The city Department of Environmental Protection rents the water and sewer infrastructure from the city, and the water rates are based on the price of rent.

The mayor’s office announced last week that it would reduce from its initial projection the net rental payments to the DEP over the next 10 years, but it is still proposing a 17.9 percent increase in the net rental payments for fiscal year 2016, which begins July 1.

The DEP’s proposed 3.24 percent increase was based on previous figures, but has not indicated it would make any adjustments to the rate based on the city’s new projections before the water board holds a public hearing on the increase at the end of April.

The DEP could not be reached for comment.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration announced it wants to eliminate the rental payment entirely over the next decade, but some lawmakers in Queens have criticized de Blasio for going back on previous promises.

The problem: de Blasio won’t even still be in office to see the plan through over that time frame.

“What I think he should do is plan to stop using the rental payments to square up the general fund over the next three years, not 10,” said Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest).

When de Blasio was public advocate in 2013, he criticized the city for increasing rental payments the water board has to pay the city for renting its water and sewer infrastructure every year, using it to balance the general fund. But de Blasio never followed through on his pledge to turn it around.

“The mayor acknowledged this, yet he is perpetuating it and expanding it,” Lancman said. “I don’t think the administration is committed to truly reversing themselves on what the net rental payment is in the future.

The proposed 3.24-percent increase from the water board is the lowest increase in 10 years, which DEP estimates would increase the average family’s water and sewer bills from about $1,025 a year to $1,058 a year.

Still, Lancman said, “it’s not a moderate increase; it’s still rising faster than the rate of inflation, and has always outpaced inflation.”

Most families in the city and in Queens are renters and may not pay a water bill. But rising utility costs also affect rental prices. Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) said it also puts an increasing financial burden for his constituents who pay some of the highest property taxes in the country.

“The ever increasing water rates affect all of us,” Vallone said. “It is extremely disappointing now to see any proposed remedy that involves subjecting New Yorkers to another 10 years of unfairly increasing water rates and I urge the administration to recognize this and stop making our residents foot the bill.”

The existing water rate of $9.58 per 100 cubic feet, or 748 gallons, would increase to $9.89 under the proposed increase. Along with the rate increase, the water board has before it a proposal to freeze the minimum charge at $1.27 per day for customers who use less than 100 gallons of water a day.

There is a public hearing on the proposed changes scheduled in all five boroughs. In Queens, the hearing is set for Thursday, April 30, at 7 p.m. at the LaGuardia Community College, conference room E-242, 45-50 Van Dam St.

Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomb[email protected]nglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

More from Around New York