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Queens Chronicle

Bills would pull the plug on water rates

Measures in Albany by Avella, Weprin would eliminate ‘minimum charge’

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Posted: Thursday, May 22, 2014 10:30 am

Seniors and other New York City residents with low water use could get a break on their water and sewer bills if measures proposed by state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) pass in the legislature.

The bills would let the city charge users only for the water they use, and eliminate the current minimum charge for water of 49 cents a day that all must pay no matter how low their usage might be.

Avella commented on the bills at a rally and press conference in the lobby of his office building last Friday.

“Charging residents only for the water they use would both provide an incentive to conserve water and ensure fairness for those who don’t use a lot of water,” Avella said Monday at his Bayside office.

The extra revenue from the minimum water charge goes into the city’s coffers. The Bloomberg administration had opposed such a change on the grounds that it needed the money, Avella said.

“I don’t know if [Mayor] de Blasio has opined on it yet,” Avella added. “I personally think that government has to be fair and if it will cost a little more money in the budget, so be it,” Avella said.

The water rate also affects sewer charges, which are 150 percent of water.

Weprin’s bill, A9226, is identical.

Stuart Hersh, an 80-year-old Queens resident and vice-president of the Douglaston-Little Neck Historical Society, said that the minimum water charge is abusive to seniors, especially because the sewer rate is calculated as a percentage of the water charge.

“We end up being alone at this point of life and we don’t use a lot of water,” Hersh said. “This must stop.”

The minimum charge means that a senior “snowbird” who lives in Florida for six months and uses absolutely no water or sewer services during that time owes a minimum of about $88 for water plus 150 percent of that, or about $132, for sewer services.

One nonsenior who agrees is Eileen Miller, 3rd vice chair of Community Board 11. She sees it as unfair that people who don’t conserve are unaffected by the minimum while seniors on a fixed income must pay for water they don’t use.

“They’re looking out saying, ‘That lady’s got a pool, a Jacuzzi, four kids running up and down, and I’m drinking a cup of coffee and taking a shower a week,’” Miller said. Richard Hellenbrecht, president of the Queens Civic Congress speaking only on his own behalf, supported the bill even though it might not necessarily help Queens as a whole. “It will help the individuals we’re concerned about — seniors,” he said.

In response to questions from the Chronicle, a Department of Environmental Protection spokesman did not address the call to eliminate the minimum.

Instead, he provided a copy of an April press release from the NYC Water Board that proposed a 2015 freeze on the minimum and a 3.35 percent increase in usage rates, the smallest in nine years and less than half the previously anticipated increase.

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