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Critics open up floodgates of opposition to hike

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As members of the city’s Water Board listened dispassionately, Marine Park homeowner Bob Antonucci expressed outrage that his water bill climbed some 60 percent in just a few years.

“It’s a back door tax on property owners,” said Antonucci. “This mayor can’t raise property tax any more because its regulated by the state, so he does it in a sneaky way.”

So it went as the Water Board at Brooklyn College presented their plans to hike the water rates for property owners 14 percent effective July 1.

The hike could be followed by another 12 percent increase in 2010.

If enacted this year and next, it would represent the fourth double−digit boost since 2007 and propel the annual water bill for typical one−family homeowners past the $1,000 mark for the first time.

Prior to listening to residents complain about the increases, the city Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner and Water Board Chair Steven Lawitts explained that a projected six percent decline in city water consumption in FY 2009 will account for $80 million of a $100 million revenue shortfall.

“DEP recognizes that both across the country and in New York City, many residents are experiencing financial pressure, and that any increase is significant for our customers,” said Lawitts. “But there is billions of dollars invested just to get that first drop of water to you.”

Residents weren’t swayed, though, and some, including Antonucci, questioned recent reports that money collected from the Water Board will go into the city’s general budget and not for costs relating to keeping the water taps open.

According to City Comptroller William Thompson, under the current payment structure, $123 million of water bill money will go toward the city’s general fund in Fiscal Year 2009, and that will swell to more than $200 million by Fiscal Year 2012.

Lawitts conceded that some of the money will go toward the city’s general fund, but he explained that state law mandates that some of the money goes back to the city, which is tied to rental of infrastructure and interest paid to the city from bond issuance.

City Councilmember Domenic Recchia, the only elected official at the hearing, said that while the City Charter calls for the Water Board’s independence, the mayor appoints all its members and many people feel it’s just another arm of the mayor.

The mayor promised that if reelected he will appoint another charter commission, and the makeup of the Water Board should be one of the issues addressed so that there could be room for a City Council and⁄or borough president representative on the board, he said.

Recchia said he also disagrees with money from property owners’ water bills going into the city’s general fund.

“If they kept it into the Water Board, they wouldn’t have to raise the rates 14 percent,” said Recchia. “There comes a point of how much people can pay to the City of New York.”

Canarsie resident Rosa Julien also said the increase doesn’t add up.

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