Water Watch NYC

Everything you need to know about water in NYC.

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Another 14% Rate Increase… and That’s Not All!

On Friday (April 3, 2009) the Water Board held its once-yearly meeting to discuss the upcoming year’s rate schedule. Here are the highlights:

  1. The DEP asked for a 14% rate increase, which would take the cost of water and sewer combined to nearly $7 per hundred cubic feet. Remember, this comes after last year’s 14.5% percent increase and 2007’s 11.5% increase, when we were assured by the DEP that 11.5% would be sufficient for the next two years (2008 and 2009). Clearly, that didn’t happen.
  2. Frontage was not discussed at all. You may remember that the Water Board initially told us that this year would be the last year for frontage. Then they extended it for one year only. By not mentioning it this year, they’ve essentially kept the extension in place another year. A source close to the situation tells me that they plan on extending it at least another two years after that.
  3. They finally put a number on their proposal to penalize New Yorkers who do not allow access to their meters. If this plan makes it into next year’s rate schedule, building owners who don’t allow DEP inspectors to read their meters will be charged, depending on the size of the water main, anywhere from $3,198 to $1,598,930 per year. And that is not a typo.
  4. One nice thing that was mentioned at the meeting was that they are attributing a 6% reduction in consumption over the last year to the efforts of conservationists. Of course, they also use this statistic to justify the magnitude of the rate increase.

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Why the City Loves Frontage

Frontage billing is the enemy of anyone who cares about conservation or the environment. Charging people a fixed amount for water, regardless of how much of it they use, encourages waste and an indifference to the need to conserve. With this in mind, why is the city reinstating frontage billing?

There are two basic reasons why the city prefers frontage billing:

  1. Frontage bills are easier to collect – For buildings with a mortgage, the bank usually pays frontage bills. They know how much to pay, they know when to pay and they don’t want to be caught in a situation where a building owner that they loaned money to has a loan sold for overdue water charges. With metered billing, the amount varies from bill to bill and the city has to chase after property owners in order to ensure payment.
  2. Frontage bills go out once a year – The city sends frontage bills annually, as opposed to metered bills which go out quarterly. This means that the more buildings there are on frontage, the more money the city has to work with at the start of every fiscal year and the less money they have to wait for down the road.

This reliance on frontage billing despite its incongruence with the city’s necessary conservation goals is a perfect example of the current administration’s love of short-sighted financial quick fixes instead of long term financial goals that will, in the long-run, reduce the operating cost of the DEP.