Public Advocate Bill de Blasio is calling on City Hall to release documents that he says are needed to justify a 5.6 percent increase in water rates being requested by the Department of Environmental Protection.
The DEP has asked the New York City Water Board to hike the price of water to $3.57 per 100 cubic feet effective in July.
But de Blasio, who also is a candidate for the Democratic nomination for mayor, said that represents a doubling of water rates since 2007, and may be the result of the city overcharging the Water Board for rental payments on city infrastructure.
In a letter to Steven Lawitts, executive director of the Water Board dated Aug. 16, de Blasio states that an analysis by his office has determined that since 2005, the authority has paid more for water than is needed for operations, personnel and investment in infrastructure, with the rest going directly into the city’s general fund.
“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 wrote. “Yet, it seems that this is precisely what has occurred since 2005 when the Water Board began paying more in rent than the city’s debt for building the water system required.”
Traditionally, de Blasio said in a press release issued by his office, the rent payments covered only the cost of the city’s debt service for water- and sewer-related infrastructure.
But he said rent payments since 2005 have nearly doubled from $109 million to $196 million in 2012, “even though the cost of servicing old debt has actually declined significantly.”
Since 2005, he stated, the payments to the city have exceeded the debt by a total of $700 million, with the increased revenue going into City Hall’s general operating budget, and effectively doubling the water rate since 2007.
“When the mayor says he hasn’t raised taxes, he’s really only talking about taxes you can see,” the public advocate said. “In truth, homeowners are getting socked again and again with hidden taxes like these water rate hikes.”
While the rate hike being sought is the lowest in eight years, the city approved annual increases of 9.4, 11.5, 14.5, 12.9 and 12.9 percent from 2007 to 2011.
Mayor Bloomberg’s press office did not respond to an email seeking comment on this story.
The 5.6 percent figure was requested on April 5 by DEP Commissioner Carter Strickland Jr.
The commissioner said he and his staff are well aware that the increase will have an effect on ratepayers going through tough economic times, and vowed that the DEP will continue to look for ways to tighten its belt.
Another Democratic mayoral candidate, Comptroller John Liu, also slammed the request in a statement issued by his office last week.
He called for residents to protest the increase through a strong showing at the public hearings, calling it another blow to the pocketbooks of struggling New Yorkers
The Water Board will have a series of public hearings on the request in the five boroughs, including one in Queens on May 2 at LaGuardia Community College, located at 45-50 Van Dam St. in Long Island City.
For Queens residents who might find it more convenient, there also will be a hearing in Brooklyn at 7 p.m. on April 30 at IS 228 at 228 Avenue S.