Friday, May 15, 2009

Water, Water, Everywhere

The price of water in the city is gonna go up again-a demonstration that the agency in charge of this utility, the Water Board (and the DEP which bears ultimate responsibility), is another venue where the vaunted managerial expertise of our billionaire mayor has been shown to be less than sterling. As Gotham Gazette reports: "Costs for that system are rising as revenue declines, so the price of water is likely about to go up once again. The Water Board will vote on a 14 percent rate hike on Friday. If approved -- as is all but certain -- the new rate will go into effect July 1. Together with past increases, the latest hike means the cost of water in the city will be 60 percent higher than it was four years ago. More increases are also expected."

And the mayor is feeling the heat for an incompetent gang that can't drink straight: "But elected officials and activists argue that the water rate hike isn't fair and that the Water Board, which sets those rates, is in need of reform. They say the board could spend its money more efficiently. Furthermore, its efforts at recouping bills from those who have not paid have been condemned as anti-consumer by some. The board itself is also lambasted as insular and too close to the mayor."

But it all goes back to the DEP, and the agency's need for overhaul. After all, it still is stymied in properly billing-let alone collecting-the city's water bills. So now, the city wants to criminalize home owners and businesses for this: "To further pursue cheats, the Water Board has proposed two regulations to accompany the rate hike. It would impose large fines on customers suspected of stealing or barring access to water meters. But these have not been received kindly in some corners. Hershel Weiss, president of the New York chapter of the American Society of Plumbing Engineers, called the proposals "two of the most anti-consumer documents ever written by the DEP." He says they will punish people with fees that could climb into the millions because the board suspects they are stealing. "There is no requirement for the DEP to prove that any theft is taking place."

But, as Lew Fidler says, all of this malfeasance and nonfeasance at the DEP-like so much else that goes on in the city that falls below high levels of efficiency-never reaches a level where Mike Bloomberg is seen as culpable. So it looks as if we may have four more years of smoke and mirrors-not to mention higher water bills for folks already suffering from the city's confiscatory tax rate.