Back in June, the DEP announced that fiscal year 2009 would be the last year of frontage billing. Since that time, neither the DEP nor the Water Board has done anything to inform the public about how this will play out. This left us in the water industry puzzled. Was there going to be a new program to replace frontage? Was every building on frontage going to be automatically switched to metered billing? Maybe the buildings on frontage were going to automatically be switched to the Multi Family Conservation Program. The answer to every frontage-related question in the industry became “Well, we’ll just have to wait and see.”
For months, I and others in my position alienated clients by telling them we just didn’t have any answers to their questions, while the decision makers trolled along doing nothing. Now, at this morning’s Water Board meeting, the DEP announced that they will be extending frontage for one more year.
Besides the indifference that this shows for the people of New York and besides the blatant disregard for the DEP’s announcement in June (reminds me of when they said a rate increase of 11.5% for three years would suffice and then went and raised rates by 14.5% a year later), how can the DEP and the Water Board go forward with this plan without going through the normal process already in place for changing water rates? Reinstating frontage without having the usual formal announcements and Water Board meeting in each borough is just another example of the DEP using the Water Board to circumvent rules that were put in place in order to protect New Yorkers.
As most of you probably already know, the Water Board approved the requested 14.5% water/sewer rate increase at their meeting last week.
On the bright side though, Water Board Chairman Jim Tripp mentioned that the mayor’s office claims to be looking into the possibility of lowering the DEP’s rental agreement. If this actually happens, the DEP would be paying the city a more reasonable price for the use of the city’s reservoirs and the city would minimize, or even eliminate, its unfair back door financing. This would also allow the DEP to lower its operating cost and hopefully, its rates as well.
WaterWatchNYC hopes the city goes through with this plan but frankly, we’re not holding our breath.
The NYC Water Board met on Friday morning to discuss the rate increase for fiscal year 2009, to go into effect July 1, 2008. It seems as though rate increases are the only things they talk about these days. If you think the water and sewer rates are high now, just wait until July.
Consider this: The current DEP water/sewer rate is $5.23 per hundred cubic feet (hcf). The DEP hopes to raise the rate to $5.99 per hcf. That’s an astronomical 14.5% increase. Click here for a pdf graph of historical water and sewer rates to see how this one compares.
It makes me wonder. What happened to the DEP’s claim last year that an 11.5% increase over the next few years would be sufficient? What happened to the DEP’s claims that all they needed to recover their costs and avoid rate hikes was the ability to sell liens and terminate service?
Here’s the real problem. The DEP’s budget has doubled in the last few years and they’re spending all their money on capital improvement the interest of which will only haunt us in the future. They claim that they need to raise their rates because of their rising costs, but instead of examining those costs, the Water Board chooses to discuss only small consulting contacts that the DEP has subverted from their own contract process to the Water Board in order to avoid competitive bidding. The public’s lack of interest and participation only emboldens the DEP to constantly raise rates.
So what can a consumer do? Before the Water Board is allowed to approve this increase they must meet once with the public in each borough to hear their concerns. DO NOT PASS UP THIS OPPORTUNITY. The only thing that prevents the DEP from taking your money is a public outcry. The meetings will be held at the following times in the following locations. Show up and make yourself heard!
- Bronx: Monday, May 5, 2008 at 6:00 pm. Manhattan College, De La Salle Hall, Room 209, 4513 Manhattan College Parkway, Bronx, NY 10471.
- Queens: Tuesday, May 6, 2008 at 11:00 am. Dept. of Environmental Protection Training Room, 6th Floor, 59-17 Junction Boulevard, Flushing, NY 11373.
- Staten Island: Tuesday, May 6, 2008 at 6:00 pm. College of Staten Island Center for the Arts, Recital Hall, 2800 Victory Boulevard, Staten Island, NY 10314.
- Manhattan: Wednesday, May 7, 2008 at 5:30 pm. St. John’s University – Manhattan, Room 123, 101 Murray Street, New York, NY 10314.
- Brooklyn: Thursday, May 8, 2008 at 6:00 pm. Brooklyn College Student Center, Alumni Lounge (opposite Whitehead Hall), East 27th Street and Campus Rd., Brooklyn, NY 11210.
For more information, see the new NYC Water Board website.
As the DEP readies to raise water and sewer rates for fiscal year 2009, the time has come again for the public to protest. In the coming weeks, the Water Board will be holding meetings to hear what the public thinks about the DEP’s 14.5% rate increase. We encourage all to attend and protest. Here are some issues worth bringing up at these hearings:
- Something has to be done about the reservoir rental agreements. The Water Board has been renting its reservoirs from New York City. The rental payments, which are supposed to cover the city’s costs of building and maintaining the reservoirs, are not fixed but rather dependent on the Water Board’s capital spending. The rent that the Water Board has paid the city to date has already far exceeded the city’s building and maintenance costs. This is an unfair agreement and is just one more example of backdoor financing to NYC. The Water Board was created to protect rate payers and bond holders from the city. It would appear that they are failing in their core mission. The rental agreement will generate a $200 million surplus to NYC in 2012. Instead of the city taking all this money for rent, they should take a fixed fee that’s closer to their actual costs and allow the Water Board to keep the rest of the money for their own needs so that they don’t have to keep raising water and sewer rates.
- Last year, the Water Board’s treasurer, William Kusterbeck, projected that an 11.5% rate increase over the next three years would be sufficient. Mere months later, they claimed they needed an additional 18% rate increase and now a 14.5% rate increase. They seem to be making these numbers up. Until the DEP provides detailed calculations for their projections, we should not be forced to accept them.
- The DEP and the Water Board consistently claim that New Yorkers are willing to pay for quality water. Well, we have been paying for it but as the price of water climbs toward $6 per hcf, most of us are not happy about it. It is our duty to inform the Water Board that they are mistaken about our beliefs.
- The DEP’s spending is spiraling out of control. As long as they think that they can continue to raise rates without any oversight, they have no incentive to start limiting their costs.
- The DEP consistently claims that its rates are reasonable because, statistically, New York City’s water rates are pretty average compared to other big cities. While this is true, 15 years ago New York City had one of the lowest water rates. Meanwhile, if rates continue to climb at the rate they’re climbing now, pretty soon we’ll have one of the most expensive rates.
We encourage all to voice their opinion. If you cannot make it to one of the Water Board’s borough hearings, we encourage you to contact your city council representative or to email Kevin Kunkle at the Water Board.