Opinion by Gregory Lobo Jost
Last night's Bronx Talk Prime Time with Gary Axelbank focused on the reasons behind skyrocketing water rates. I had the privilege to be on the show, along with Harold Shultz from the Citizens Housing and Planning Council. We had a lively discussion touching on many aspects of our current predicament including the filtration plant, DEP's unchecked spending, and the nature of water rates as a regressive tax. This episode of Bronx Talk will re-air today at 3:30 and 9:30 PM on BronxNet 67.
To read more about the need for water rate reform, check out recent reports by CHPC, the Independent Budget Office, and University Neighborhood Housing Program.
Also, here are comments from UNHP director Jim Buckley regarding the passage of the 14.5% rate hike this past Friday:
The New York City Water Board approved a 14.5% rate increase effective July 1, 2008. Comptroller William Thompson and Council Finance Chair Weprin and Council Environmental Chair Gennaro spoke against the increase. In an unusual move, the individual board members spoke individually about the thought process behind their decision to proceed with the increase.
Chairman Jim Tripp indicated that he had contemplated resignation and ultimately decided to stay on the board and vote for the increase after entering into a “joint commitment with the Mayor and DEP to examine alternative rate structures and a full and deep exploration of the board’s rental payment to the City.” He indicated that for the first time in the years he has discussed these issues with City Hall that there is an understanding of the issue around the rental payment and he credited the many individuals and groups that have spoken out on the issue with getting the attention of City Hall on the issue.
Tripp envisions a real discussion with City Hall that will result in looking at the allocation of costs of the water system, discussion with state regulators on the value and scheduling of certain mandated work items like the covering of the Hillview Reservoir which may add $1 billion to the capital cost of the system. Tripp said that nobody should be looking at DEP as a cash cow. He feels that he has a commitment from City Hall that will result in some kind of action in the next 6 months, re-directing money for next year, including the rental payment in excess of the debt service on old municipal debt.
Did we lose? Yes for now, but maybe not with a longer term view. The rate increase is approved and it’s the largest increase in 15 years. However, the Water Board has taken on a more active role with City Hall on the need for rate restructuring. They have sped up a process that as recently as a month ago was being talked about in terms of years and is now being talked about in terms of months. As always, the follow up is going to be the key.