Friday, April 03, 2009

Waterboarding Legalized!

Just when you thought real change had been ushered in for the Age of Obama-with Gitmo closing and water boarding placed on the endangered species list-along comes the news that NYC homeowners will be soaked once again by another double digit increase in their water bills. As the NY Times reports: "New York City residents should brace for another double-digit increase in their water rates, even though they are conserving more water than ever before.That is the mixed message that residents are likely to hear on Friday, when the New York City Water Board is expected to raise water and sewer rates by 14 percent, while water consumption is projected, thanks to the recession, to hit its lowest point since the 1960s."

All we can think about this is that water boarding has been legalized-with New York City residents being the hapless victims once again: "Over all, the city is on pace to collect roughly $80 million less in water bill revenues than in previous years. And that decline is one reason, city officials said, that the water board is expected to consider a rate increase similar to the 14.5 percent increase in 2008, which was the largest since 1992. For the average single-family homeowner, a 14 percent increase would mean a new annual bill of roughly $910, compared with the current bill of about $800."

But wait! Remember when the rate was last increased, and the administration promised a full report on the entire rate making process? As the Times points out: "Water rates have become an increasingly contentious issue in recent years. Last year, the city’s Independent Budget Office calculated that water rates had risen a cumulative 77 percent since 2001. City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr., who is considered a probable opponent for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in the November election, held a news conference this week criticizing the city for failing to produce a study on water rates that was promised after the 14.5 percent increase. He is expected to testify at the water board meeting on Friday."

So we have an agency that arbitrarily-without any real rhyme or reason-raises rates; while its governing structure-can anyone say MTA?-remains totally opaque: "The Department of Environmental Protection has been questioned, as well, about its operations. Because the agency is financed chiefly by water bills, it has been largely cushioned from the steep budget cuts ordered by Mr. Bloomberg to help the city close a multibillion-dollar deficit. The Daily News reported recently that the agency had approved $300,000 in raises to 41 employees since January."

Remember also, that the DEP is an agency that has for years been unable to collect its bills; owing to the fact that it simply is so inefficient that it can't justify them in any independent review process. So what good is modernization and overhaul, if the modernizers are also the aggrandizers? "But city officials say that the Bloomberg administration is pushing ahead with modernization and infrastructure programs that will ultimately save the city — and consumers — much more money. As one example, the city recently unveiled the latest technology to upgrade its record-keeping system to help the city collect tens of millions of dollars in overdue water bills."

So the one thing that we can depend on when the DEP reaches for greater efficiencies, is a more facile and lucrative bill collection process; one that will perhaps continue to charge more as consumers use less water. And only in DEP Newspeak is a greater ability to collect money from customers seen as a saving for consumers.

So this Keystone Kops agency is yet another example of the failure of the Bloombergistas to reinvent government in a way that will create cost savings through greater efficiencies. The good news? He'll probably have another four years to continue to demonstrate his own lack of governing suppleness.