THE AMENDED CHARTER AND NEW YORK’S WATER SUPPLY.
THE following proposed amendments to the charter of Greater New York show the changes recommended and strongly urged by the commissioners appointed by Governor Roosevelt to revise that charter:
We propose that in case of condemnation proceedings no sources of supply shall be taken which are in actual use at the time of the initiation of proceedings for condemnation for the supply of the waterworks of the people of any other city, town, or vilage of the State, or for the supply and distribution of waters to the people thereof; or which in the opinion of the court on such proceedings may reasonably become necessary for such supply; or to take or use the water from any of the canals of the State, etc.
While these powers seem to give to the city of New York ample means of extending their supply of water as such extension may become necessary in the future, and also to give reasonable security to the inhabitants of those parts of the State from which the water supply must be derived, yet the commission is bound to point out that the possession of such powers by the city does not fully solve the entire problem. The constitutional provisions against increasing the city’s debt operate in practice so as to make it exceedingly difficult, for the city to borrow money for the purpose of extending its sources of supply of water. Money may, indeed under the constitution, be borrowed without limit for this purpose; but should it be borrowed to any considerable amount the practical result would be to prevent the city of New York from borrowing money for other purposes essential to its continued growth—such as the extension of its docks and the building of new schools.
POWER TO BORROW MONEY.
The commission, therefore, recommends an amendment to section 10 of article VIII. of the constitution, which will so far modify the existing limitations on the incurring of indebtedness by cities as to except from its provisions, first, bonds to be hereafter issued by the city of New York for the acquisition and improvement of waterfront property on Manhattan Island for dock purposes, and, second, indebtedness hereafter to be incurred for purposes of water supply. The justification for these two exceptions is the same in both instances—namely, that long experience has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt the profitable character of both these fields of municipal ownership, and that bonds issued and expenditures made for such purposes not only do not add to the burdens of taxation, but that they actually tend to reduce such burdens Upon the proper and prompt development of the waterfront of Manhattan Island, the commercial supremacy of New York city, and, incidentally, of the State also, in large part depends.
WATER SUPPLY IMPROVEMENTS.
The necessity for removing unnatural restrictions upon the ability of the city to provide its inhabitants with a pure, wholesome, and sufficient supply of water is more urgent. The danger of having the water supply of the city of New York thrown into private hands arises mainly from financial considerations. The day is not far distant when the pinch of water shortage will beactually felt. If, when that day comes, the city is unable itself to supply the needs of its citizens, theoretical considerations, however sound, will not be permitted to stand in the way of securing additional water by the means most speedily available. In other words, the constitutional limitation, operating as it practically does to prevent the city from securing more water, also undoubtedly operates with constantly increasing certainty to throw the city into the hands of private monopoly. The need of constant investment in new facilities of various kinds, to be met by the issue of bords, is constant and urgent. It is not to be expected that the people or their officers shall exercise such extraordinary selfdenial as to forego the necessities of the present hour, in order to undertake improvements and additions to the water supply system, the benefits of which will not be experienced for ten or fifteen years. And when it is borne in mind that the supplying of water to the citizens of New York has always been a profitable enterprise, the commission believes that there is no reason for continuing in force a constitutional provision which, in the present state of the law, leaves the citizens of New York only two unhappy alternatives—recourse to a private company for the supply of water, or the interruption of the orderly and necessary development of the city. It is particularly to be noted that we recommend that this constitutional restriction shall be removed only as to future issues of bonds, so that no sudden enlargement of the city’s debt-incurring capacitiy, leading to possible extravagance, can result. There is, however, a further consideration to he borne in mind in dealing with this most important question of water supply, for it must not be forgotten or overlooked that the demands of the City of New York necessarily come into competition with the demands of other municipalities. The growing cities of Yonkers and Mount Vernon must seek their water supply in somewhat the same direction as the city of New York, and there is at present no central authority able to determine between them in case, as is not impossible, their claims shall hereafter come into active collision. Should the city of New York seek its water supply as far north as the Adirondacks, the interests of other largeconsumers of water would probably be involved.
STATE SALE OF WATER.
In view of all these difficulties and adverse interests, the commission recommends to the serious consideration of the legislature a proposal which has been laid before us for the adoption of legislation somewhat similar to that of the State of Massachusetts in establishing what is known as the Metropolitan water district. Under the Massachusetts statute, thirteen cities and towns are furnished with water supply by the State itself. The adoption of such a system in New York would do away with any constitutional difficulties, for the State is free to borrow what money may be needed. The principal so successfully adopted in connection with the RapidTransit railroad in the city of New York could be applied. The water furnished by the State could be sold to the various municipalities using it at such a price as would not only pay the interest upon the bonds issued by the State, but would also create a sinking fund to retire them at maturity, and none of the expense incurred upon the State’s credit would fall upon the taxpayers of the State at large. And State authorities could be relied onto do entire justice as between the inhabitants of the portion of the State from which the supply of water was derived upon the one hand, and as between the several consumers of water upon the other. The wants which are now urgent in many parts of the city of New York, and which may become urgent shortly throughout the whole city, could be relieved within some moderate time and without the possibility of resort to contract with private corporations.
REPEAL RAMAPO POWERS.
We strongly recommend that the excessive powers granted under what is known as the Ramapo charter, being chapter 985 of the laws of 1895, should be repealed. We have retained in section 471 of the charter the existing provisions of law prohibiting the making of any contract for the supplying or selling of water, except with the approval of the board of estimate and apportionment, together with the separate written consent and approval of both the mayor and the comptroler of the city of New York. We have also retained the provisions in the same section providing that the making or approval of any such contract might be reviewed by the Appellate division of the Supreme court. We have been urged to recommend the entire prohibition of the making of contracts for the supply of water from any private source, so that there might be exclusive public ownership of the source of water supply in the city of New York Although the commission is satisfied that municipal ownership of water supply should be the general rule, yet there are exceptional cases in the boroughs of the Bronx, Queens, and Richmond, in which it is now essential, and may be for many years to come, that water should be obtained from sources not owned by the city; but we believe the present provisions of law. while enabling such exceptional contracts to be made, will sufficiently guard against any improvident arrangement upon a larger scale. In section 472 we have proposed amendments to the charter which will enable the city to condemn water rights within its own borders and within the region from which it now draws its water supply, and known generally as the Croton watershed. We recommend that it also be given power to condemn such rights in one of three other watersheds, which may be described generally as the Adirondacks, the Esopus valley, and the Wallkill valley—making certain exceptions in the ca_____es of lake George, lake Champlain, and the Mohawk river.
Fort Atkinson, Wis., will have a $35,000 system.