In 2013, Mayor de Blasio, then a candidate for the city’s highest office, called the annual raising of water rates a hidden tax that he planned to combat if elected.
This year, elected officials and homeowners are calling on the mayor to fulfill that promise.
Last Thursday, Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) joined fellow Councilmen Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens), Paul Vallone (D-Bayside), and area civic leaders at a press conference demanding that de Blasio address the issue of rising water rates that have angered residents for a decade.
“When Mayor de Blasio was public advocate and he was running for mayor, he had a very clear understanding of how this system was really abusing the rights and pocket books of middle class New Yorkers,” Lancman said. “We’re calling on the mayor to end this abusive policy of ripping off water rate payers here in New York City.”
For the fiscal year 2014, the price of water increased by 5.6 percent to $3.58 per 100 cubic feet, and the average annual water bill for a single-family home stands at $991, up from $939 last year.
Since 2005, the water rate has jumped 89.8 percent, with the rate increasing by double-digit percentage points four times in the last 10 years.
The 5.6 percent increase last year represents the smallest rate jump since 2006, and since 2011, the rate increase has shrunk by an average of 2.4 percent each year, but Lancman says these decreases encapsulate exactly what is wrong with the broken water rate system.
“It says something about how bad people have been dragged over the coals over the years that we consider a 5 percent increase in water rates an achievement,” Lancman said in a phone interview on Monday. “I’m very concerned the mayor’s priorities seem to be everywhere except Queens homeowners and water rate payers.”
Last year, de Blasio blasted the increasing price of water, saying that the previous administration raised the rates in part to funnel extra money into the city’s general operating budget.
“While I fully support the notion that the Water Board should raise enough revenue to fund investment in a fully functional water and sewer system, it should not raise additional revenues to pad the city’s general operating budget,” de Blasio said in a letter to the Water Board last year.
The Mayor’s Office did not respond to inquiries for comment by press time.
The mayor’s lack of rhetoric over water rates since he took office in January has worried not only some City Council members, but also residents like Yolanda Delacruz-Gallagher, a board member of the Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic Association, are tired of conserving every possible water droplet that comes out of the garden hose and shower head.
“It’s impossible for us to survive these increases,” Delacruz-Gallagher said at Thursday’s press conference. “Years ago, you paid $30 to $50. Now, you have to watch every drop that comes out of the faucet.”
Both de Blasio, as public advocate, and the outspoken City Council members have said that another reason for the exorbitant water prices are former Mayor Bloomberg’s refusal to lower the rent set by the city for the Water Board’s use of the city’s water pipes.
Lancman says de Blasio has the ability to decide the Water Board’s rent on his own, and the board will set a rate based on the rent being charged by the city.
“It’s entirely within his power to make this stop,” Lancman said. “He just needs to make a decision.”
Additionally, leaks in the Delaware Aqueduct, the seven-decade-old tunnel that transports nearly half the city’s water supply from the Rondout Reservoir in the Catskill Mountains to the Hillview Reservoir in Yonkers, cause the loss of anywhere from 10 to 35 million gallons of water each day.
Construction of a bypass tunnel that will be used to avoid the leaky portion of the aqueduct will begin in 2015 and will be the centerpiece of the $1.5 billion Water for the Future program aimed at ensuring high-quality drinking water for city residents.
Once the bypass tunnel is completed and the loss of water through the leaks is ended, the skyrocketing water rates could potentially come back down to Earth.