Tuesday, June 10, 2008

$4.5 Million Water Bill for a New York Agency

One of the biggest water bill deadbeats in New York City is the Economic Development Corporation, according to an audit released by the city comptroller’s office on Monday.

William C. Thompson Jr., the comptroller, said that the corporation had not paid any water or sewer bills for 22 years at the Brooklyn Army Terminal in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, a building of commercial and light industrial space controlled by the corporation.

The unpaid bills totaled $4.5 million.

In a press conference, Mr. Thompson said he was outraged that the agency was so delinquent, not only in failing to pay its bills but also in not contacting the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, which runs the water system, since 1989.

It was especially galling, he said, that city agencies owed millions for water at a time when rates have increased by double digits in recent years.

“Because E.D.C. fell down on the job, all that money is down the drain,” Mr. Thompson said.

As a result of his audit, Mr. Thompson said, the Department of Environmental Protection recently sent a $479,124 bill to the corporation, covering two years in arrears. In an agreement between the City Council and the department, no more than two years were sought.

Mr. Thompson said that his audit found that the corporation had, during the 2007 fiscal year, reported a net operating income of $7 million — money that he argued should be turned over to the city. The corporation, which promotes economic growth in the city, has argued that was not legally necessary.

After The New York Times reported in December 2006 that the city had failed to collect millions of dollars in overdue water bills, in large part because of poor bookkeeping, the city hired a consultant to find ways to get tough with deadbeat property owners.

City water officials have made some progress in reforming the collection process. Mr. Thompson said that he was concerned that many other city agencies were also delinquent in their water bills, and that he had called on Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to conduct a citywide review.

When asked about the bills, Janel Patterson, a spokeswoman for the Economic Development Corporation, said in a statement: “We moved to address this issue in April, and E.D.C. has since brought the account current for the prior two years. Moving forward, D.E.P. will bill E.D.C. quarterly for water consumption at the terminal, which E.D.C. will pay promptly.”

In The Times’s review of city water records, many city and state agencies showed up on the delinquent list. When The Times asked about the governmental deadbeats, the city explained that in the case of city agencies, the water bills were handled as a kind of payment transfer, and sometimes a delay in that process could cause agencies to appear late in payment.

[Via NY Times]

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