New water meters cause meteoric water price surge, Brooklynites say

The city’s new water meter readers are drowning the borough in undeserved bills, say angry Brooklynites who are now paying as much as eight times more for water than they did before.

The Bloomberg administration is slowly installing the automated devices, which read and transmit information to the city about water usage, across the five boroughs in a $252-million program launched in 2009 that was slated to save residents and businesses $90 million thanks to improved accuracy.

But residents say the new meter readers are causing their savings to go down the drain.

“I’ve been frustrated by it and I’m waiting for something to get done with it,” said Midwood resident Naomi Wolf, who claims she used to pay about $1,200 per year for water — before the city billed her $4,800 after installing automated meter readers at her home on Ocean Parkway last September. “I would prefer not to have to pay the city another $3,600 for something that didn’t take place. I use a normal amount of water like everybody else. We don’t have a sprinkler system. I barely even water the tiny patch of grass I have.”

Wolf is hardly alone.

Complaints have flooded Public Advocate Bill de Blasio’s office from all five boroughs — but Brooklyn leads the way with 168 complaints about allegedly faulty readers, 42 percent of the citywide total.

And Midwood isn’t the only area that’s been soaked: complaints have come from all over the borough, with Canarsie and Mill Basin racking up the most.

Not that new readers are the only thing shooting up water costs for residents.

The price of water in the city has nearly doubled for homeowners in the last ten years — and the city has raised rates between 1 and 14.5 percent every year for the past 16 years.

In 2013, water rates will rise another 7 percent.

Critics say that instead of helping residents save cash, the new meter readers are just another money-maker for the city.

The city is on pace to collect a record $3 billion in water bills, which would be an increase of 30 percent from the $2.1 billion collected in 2008, according to the Daily News.

The Department of Environmental Protection, which administers the city’s water system, argues that the new readers have ultimately helped save residents money by cutting down on estimates, and officials maintain they have found no “discrepancy” in any of the meter readings that residents across the city have complained about.

“Automated meter readers let our customers track and manage their water use, and have helped them save millions of dollars,” said Chris Gilbride, a spokesman for the department.

But public officials say that’s ludicrous.

“The denials out of City Hall are getting less believable by the day,” said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. “We know bill disputes are up, we know [the Department of Environmental Protection] is out hiring new inspectors it shouldn’t need, we know homeowners are getting bills that defy explanation.”

Brooklynites like Samuel Troutman say something must be done before rising water bills sink their finances.

“It was $50 a month until the guy came and put something on the pipe. Then it shot up to $500,” said Troutman, who has lived at the same house for more than 30 years. “How are we going to pay for that?”

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/emrosenberg.