Water Conservation – The big loser in the 2012 Water & Sewer Rates Proposal.
There are two primary methods to bill for water and sewer in NYC. The first method is “Metered Billing” under which the size of one’s bill is solely based upon consumption. The more water consumed the more you pay. If you conserve water you realize an immediate saving. The second method is Flat Rate billing in which you pay a fixed fee based upon certain characteristics of your building. Once you fee is fixed you can use as much water as you wish without incurring any additional cost. The two most prevalent Flat Rate billing methods in NYC are Frontage and the Multifamily Conservation Program (MCP). Under frontage you pay for the width of the front of your property (hence the name Frontage), height of the building, number of apartments, number of plumbing fixtures and other physical attributes, and under the MCP program you pay per apartment.
For as long as I can remember conservationist have been urging the NYC Water Board to eliminate frontage billing. Experience has shown that homeowners will reduce their consumption if they are forced to pay for what they use. The Water Board agreed with this in principle, and back in the 1990s they mailed out letters to all customers stating that frontage would end in two years. Customers were urged to install meters and repair their leaks or face large bills. At the last moment the Water Board had cold feet and pushed off the deadline for another two years. The pattern kept repeating itself for over a decade. Finally in 2010 the Water Board said they were serious and Frontage would end in 2012. When members of the Water Board were asked why anyone should believe that 2012 would be different, they pointed out that Mayor Bloomberg was a lame duck and serious about conservation.
Well they are finally doing it. On March 30 the Water Board announced the end of frontage. Bloomberg is good as his word. There is, however, one caveat: Everyone on frontage will be moved to the Multifamily Conservation Program. The rate for the MCP program will be the average of all frontage rates. In short all that has been accomplished with fourteen years of conservation lobbying is a change in the name of the flat rate billing program!
To be honest the program will require all building on the MCP program to install Water Sense Plumbing Fixtures and repair any leaks. This should result in some savings. The problem is that there is no motivation for anyone to continue repairing their leaks unless you believe the DEP when they say that they will be monitoring your consumption and throw you off the program if they detect leaks.
I never believed that the DEP would eliminate frontage. There are just too many reasons to keep billing on fixed rates. Fixed rate bills are generally paid on time by the mortgagee while metered bills are paid by the homeowners and chronically late. Furthermore: fixed rate bills are paid a year in advance. But most important is it really fair to ask property owners to pay fluctuating bills caused by their tenant’s consumption while maintaining fixed rate Rent Stabilization?