Bloomberg Drenching Water Ratepayers One Last Time

NEW YORK -

The Bloomberg administration said Monday that they are seeking another water rate hike for New York City residents, who are already paying nearly double what they were when Mayor Michael Bloomberg entered office 12 years ago.

The administration insists that the as-yet-unspecified rate hike, which may boost the average user’s annual bill above $1,000 for the first time, is taken to pay for federally-mandated safety measures and system upgrades.

“We want the rate increase that goes into effect next July to be smaller than before,” Steve Lawitts, the chief financial officer of the Department of Environmental Protection, told the Daily News.

Bill de Blasio, the city’s public advocate and the frontrunner for mayor next year, has gone on record several times that a water rate hike is no more than a stealth tax on the middle class.

“For decades, the water system only charged customers what it needed to cover its costs,” de Blasio said earlier this year. “But now, anyone who pays a water bill is sending more and more of their money into the city’s general budget. It’s wrong and it has to stop.”

Critics of the city’s four-member water board who must approve every rate increase pounced Monday at the news.

Citing the $252 million automated meter readers the city installed which homeowners have complained inexplicably bumped up their water bills, Councilman David Greenfield said they should not allow any rate increase until all issues with the system are resolved.

“The [Department of Environmental Protection] must conduct a full audit and resolve any billing issues before we even think about raising water rates again next year,” Greenfield said. “It is bad enough to soak the public with this backdoor tax increase year after year, but it is a slap in the face to do it while so many outstanding questions about these new meters still exist.”

The city slapped water users with a 5.6 percent hike this year, and 7 percent raise last year. In the four preceding years, water costs have been upped by double digit increases, marking a 78 percent raise just since 2005. New York took in a record $3.3 billion in the 2012 fiscal year, up from the $2.1 billion collected in 2008.

The average single-family homeowner now pays $991 per year — up from $554 in 2005.

Critics say that parts of the water bills do not even go to pay for water expenses, but toward paying off debt from the 1970s fiscal crisis and covering annual budgets.

But as the city touts the increased revenues, homeowners are still furious they’re getting drenched — and the new automated water meter readers remain at the heart of the controversy.

The devices are designed to more accurately measure the amount of water each household uses. The city says they are working — estimated bills went down from 17 percent of New York’s 836,000 water customers to just three percent this year.