Despite vigorous opposition from local officials, the New York State Public Service Commission this month approved a huge 34% water rate hike in New Rochelle and neighboring communities, to be phased in over 4 years.

Though this is less than the 55% increase sought by United Water, it still represents an unfair added burden for residents of the region, especially during such difficult economic times. I lobbied the PSC personally, appearing before a public hearing in August, and contributed to extensive documentation presented by local officials opposing the proposed hike.

In addition to raising rates directly on consumers, United Water is also asking taxpayers to foot a bigger bill for fire hydrant access. The PSC approved an increase of almost 70% on hydrant fees over the next four years, putting further strain on our municipal budget.

Together with the other municipalities impacted by this wrong-headed decision, New Rochelle is now exploring options for addressing this matter.

Below is the statement I released on Oct. 14 in response to the decision. I trust that my frustration is evident:

This disgraceful decision is a slap in the face to the residents of our region. The PSC has shown complete indifference to the challenges facing struggling families and municipalities in this difficult economy.

Suez Environment, a French-based multi-national corporation, will now enjoy a windfall profit on the backs of hard-pressed local ratepayers. Meanwhile, a whopping increase in fire hydrant rental fees, which should have been eliminated entirely, will deal property taxpayers a double blow.

If the mission of the PSC is, in large part, to protect the interests of New Yorkers from monopolistic utilities, then it has failed utterly. Add the PSC to the list of dysfunctional Albany institutions in need of top-to-bottom reform.

New Rochelle intends to fully explore its options for relieving this new burden on our residents.