Sink or swim with rate hike

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With the city’s Water Board poised to hike water rates 14 percent, a state lawmaker is urging the use of federal stimulus funds to reduce the increase on fees to residents.

Brooklyn Assembly member Jim Brennan wrote the state Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC), the conduit for federal funds, to speed the commitment of federal stimulus water funding to the city before the Water Board votes on the increase May 1.

“If the state authority apportioning federal funds acts quickly, it is possible that the Water Board’s anticipated steep rate increase of 14 percent could be reduced by as much as one third, saving consumers millions of dollars they need right now,” said Brennan.

Brennan said federal stimulus funding for water and sewer infrastructure includes about $432 million for New York State, of which as much as $255 million may be designated for the city’s water and sewer projects.

EFC spokesperson Sue Mayer said she is not involved in discussions with the city so she doesn’t know if federal stimulus funds would or would not impact water rates for city residents.

Brennan’s initiative comes after city Comptroller and mayoral candidate William Thompson, along with other elected officials, has charged the hikes are a ruse to add revenue to the city’s general budget.

Thompson figures that $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 FY 2012.

The Water Board, whose main function is to set rates and approve capital projects, is a public board, which leases the water and sewer infrastructure from the city.

The mayor appoints all of its members.

Bloomberg spokesperson Marc Lavorgna said no one wants to raise water bills, but the city has to make major investments to ensure the quality of the city’s water.

Lavorgna also noted that the DEP utilizes other city agencies while working on water and sewer issues at the city’s expense.

The 14 percent water rate hike this year could be followed by another 12 percent increase in 2010, the New York Post reported this week.

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.

Following the Water Board’s vote on the hikes, the new rates will go into affect June 1.

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