2004-04-21 / Editorials


Homeowners Should Not Pay For Watershed Security

If the New York City Water Board has its way, this coming July, water rates for homeowners across the city will increase by 5.5 percent. Homeowners now pay an average of $526 a year to tap into the city water supply; the hike will raise the tab by about $28 per year.

City Councilmember James Gennaro, chairman of the council Environmental Protection Committee, last year challenged a Water Board proposal to raise rates by 6.5 percent and won the one percent reduction. "The real number should be a two percent increase," he said at the time. He intends to bring the same pressure to bear this year, he added.

We applaud Gennaro for his fight for New York City’s homeowners, most of whom are paying mortgages on one- and two-family dwellings and who just got slapped with an 18.5 percent increase in property taxes. Most of the city’s middle-class working people, who are the backbone of the economy, are having a hard enough time making ends meet as it is. While $28 more a year may not sound like a huge amount, consider: this increase will not affect only homeowners. Landlords, too, will find themselves paying more to operate their buildings. Of necessity, they will pass the increase on to their tenants. Cooperative and condominium owners will find their maintenance and common charges escalating as well. The fact that wages tend to remain constant while the price of everything goes up will find more middle-class people giving serious thought to leaving New York City.

A spokesperson for the Water Board said the increase was brought about by the need to cover the costs of security at the reservoirs from which the city draws the 1.3 billion gallons of water that nearly 9 million people use every day. In order to ensure that security, some 70 new DEP officers must be hired, the spokesperson added.

Given the times in which we live, we don’t question the need to protect the city’s water supply. We do, however, question the need to make the tax- and water rate payers of New York City foot the bill. Last week, the Department of Homeland security began distributing the latest round of block grant funds. Under the block grant program, funded at $2.2 billion this year, each of the 50 states in the Union is granted a minimum of 0.75 percent of the pot, accounting for 40 percent of the total. The remaining 60 percent is distributed based on population. States with relatively small populations, such as Wyoming, are due to receive a much larger per-capita share of these funds than is the state of New York. North Dakota will be allocated $30.64 per capita, Vermont will get $31.24 and Wyoming will get $37.52. Meanwhile, New York, "a big state where the risk couldn’t be greater," Congressmember Anthony Weiner points out, gets $103,243,000, or $5.38 per person. "Any calculus that gives New York $5.38 per capita to fight terror, while providing Wyoming with $37.52, Vermont with $31.24 and North Dakota with $30.64, is less about security than it is plain old pork barrel politics," Weiner declared.

We cannot argue the need to protect the 18 reservoirs and three controlled lakes of the water supply system. We do maintain that the cost of that protection should be sustained by the agency responsible for the internal security of the United States. New York City has already paid a fearful price for its position as the capital city of the world. It is grossly unfair to expect the great majority of its population to pay for the means to protect its water supply.

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