Over the last three years, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection has faced three interlocking challenges. First, to meet a critical series of environmental threats without being forced to spend billions of additional dollars on capital facilities. Second, to end the escalation of water and sewer rates and provide relief to ratepayers, especially those in the hardest hit affordable housing sector. Third, to improve day-to-day service delivery while dealing with significant resource and staffing constraints.
To meet these challenges, the Department has undertaken a series of major new initiatives including watershed protection, refocusing water policy on water conservation, comprehensive harbor wide planning, city-wide leak detection and water main flushing programs, an unprecedented program of capital construction, and a modernizing of its billing and customer service information systems, while aggressively amassing major cost savings.
Now, it is time to integrate and finalize these initiatives as future water system policy and, above all, to set priorities to insure these initiatives can be attained within the resource constraint of affordable water rates. This plan does so.
The measures in this plan combined with past savings make possible a two-year water and sewer rate freeze and a limit in rate growth for at least three years thereafter to an inflation-indexed cap, currently projected to be 5.5% annually. In addition this plan enables the City to propose individual payment caps and other rate relief measures for rate payers with high bills, including a rebate program for toilet retrofits.
This is not a typical strategic plan. First, it was put together by operating managers, not planners. Second, it was an exercise done in full partnership with the City's financial agencies. Third, it is action oriented. Fourth, and most crucially, it is resource driven. That is why the emphasis is not only on the strategic, but on the business component. It is a blueprint for future structural balance between DEP goals of premier service and affordable rates.
The features of the plan can be briefly summarized. The greatest threat to long term affordable rates is growth in capital program debt service. The biggest needs of the system are for better operating and maintenance programs, for pollution prevention and water conservation and for better response to customer service needs, all of which save money and reduce capital needs. Thus the plan is based on shifting resources to these programs