Assemblyman Weprin Testimony before the New York City Water Board on Proposed Water Rates

April 26, 2012

Good evening Chair Moss and Members of the New York City Water Board. My name is David Weprin, Assemblyman from the 24th district representing Northeastern Queens. Thank you for this opportunity to speak today.

The reason I am here is because the New York City Water Board has proposed to raise the water rates for New Yorkers by an additional 7% on July 1, 2012. Since as far back as 1995 the Water Board has consistently raised water rates and since 2007 they have increased it astronomically by over 60% in the last five years alone.

Historically, since 1995, the Water Board raised rates by 4.3% on average, raising rates by increments of 5.5% and 6.5% but since 2008 we have seen a more drastic increase with the rates going up by double digits. Now you are proposing yet another increase of 7%. It is time to say enough is enough. This increase could not come at a worse time, as many New Yorkers have been deeply affected by the recent economic downturn and are struggling to pay their water bills at the current rate.

The Water Board leases the water and sewer infrastructure from the City. The Board’s rental payments to the City are based on a formula that, until recently, simply reimbursed the City for water-related debt service on bonds issued before the Water Authority was created. Since 2005, however, the formula has led to rental payments in excess of the underlying city expense.

One of the first issues that needs to be addressed is the current make-up of the Water Board which is comprised of almost all Mayoral appointees. I have introduced legislation – A3725-A - that improves the composition of the Water Board, making it more accountable to the public.

This bill requires that four (4) of the seven (7) members of the Water Board be appointed by the Mayor of New York City, one (1) appointed by the Speaker of the City Council, one (1) by the Public Advocate, and one (1) by the City Comptroller. All of whom must be confirmed by the City Council. The Chair of the board would then be duly elected by the newly appointed members. This bill would give appointing power to three other offices of the city government and also includes a conflict of interest provision to prevent current and recent city officers or employees from serving on the board. Altogether, this bill offers a much greater level of accountability to the rate payers.

I am also a sponsor of legislation-A2672- that would limit increases in the debts of the Water Finance Authority to 5% annually or the current rate of inflation, whichever is greater.

A report published by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, sparked by complaints from 145 home and business owners, shows that the new transmitters installed by the Department of Environmental Protection can result in inaccurate readings that overcharge residents—sometimes by tens of thousands of dollars. I have just introduced legislation that prevents the City from forcing homeowners to pay charges associated with their water bill while they are appealing a decision, sparing them from facing late penalties, interest, and possible liens on their homes until a final decision is reached.

New Yorkers are facing tough times and they are paying more for less across the board. It is time for the DEP to be accountable to the residents of New York City. We must make changes to our water system, at the same time ensuring the safety of our drinking water, but not on the backs of struggling working families. I will oppose any attempt to increase water rates in order to protect our City’s working families who are struggling. I am committed to standing up for our overtaxed and financially burdened citizens in their resistance to these excessive and unnecessary water rate hikes.

Lastly, wastewater charges will remain at 159% of water charge. I still do not understand the rationale for connecting waste water charges to the water bill. New Yorkers will be hit twice by having to pay an increase in their water bill as well as pay more for their wastewater charges.

Very often, the opinions of the citizens of New York City are not taken into consideration and increases are enacted as planned. Since 2008, the New York City Water Board has consistently raised water rates by double digit percentages, while New Yorkers struggle to pay their mortgages. It is unfair to continue to raise water rates each year. The first solution is to reconstitute the water board to ensure transparency and fairness in decision-making practices and then to set a maximum rate by which the board can raise water charges per year. Lastly, it is important to provide safeguards for consumers who feel they are being charged rates that are too high or incorrect and protect them from undue costs and taxes on their bills until their appeals have been adjudicated.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today.