WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- When Cristino Camacho received a water bill from White Plains last week, the Angelico's Laundromat owner said his eyes widened as they caught sight of the $5,000 tab.
Camacho, 48, of White Pains, said the nearly 60 percent increase in his water bill has forced him to raise the cost of doing a load of laundry by 50 cents and to ask customers to pay a quarter for every eight minutes they use a dryer, instead of a quarter per 10 minutes.
"I used to pay $3,500 every six months because this is not that big of a place," Camacho said of his Post Road laundromat. "It was a $2,000 increase, so we were kind of hurting."
Camacho, who took the store over from his brother in 2006, said the latest water rate increase is the largest he has encountered. Customers moving back to Latin American countries, the lackluster economy and now a price increase have Camacho worried.
"You just don't get the same amount of people spending money," said Camacho. "If they used to be coming every week, now they come every other week because of the economy."
The common council voted to increase the cost of water by eight to 10 percent for those on the basic schedule and 12 to 15 percent for customers on the excess non-per capita schedule this December. After water prices rose in 2010 and 2009, laundromats say the latest increase has added injury to an already bruised industry.
At least four laundromats had signs taped over the prices, suggesting that prices had been altered. Notes left by management at Lavanderia Wash and Dry on Central Avenue blamed the water rate hike for increasing the cost of washing a load by $1.
"Due to a sharp water rate increase our cost was quadrupled by the strike of a pen from the city. For example, the water for the small machines did cost 25 cent each use, now, it costs $1 just for the water," the note read. "Due to circumstances beyond our control we must raise our prices."
White Plains has been forced to pass along price increases and premiums from New York City, where most of White Plains' water is purchased, according to Finance Commissioner Michael Genito.
The New York City Water Board established a per-capita rate by dividing the city's water consumption by its population. Any business or residential establishment using more than the per-capita rate is charged at a higher rate for consuming more than the average amount of water.
"We, in turn, have to recoup that (the excess per-capita premiums) and have the same basic plan. Otherwise, the entire residential community would be paying for excess water usage that they don't use and they don't make a profit on either," said Genito, who added that the swelling of White Plains' daytime population often pushes certain facilities onto the excess per-capita schedule.
Laundromats straddle the water schedules, with a few smaller businesses on the basic schedule and busier or larger laundromats on the excess per-capita schedule. Regardless of their businesss schedule, owners, including Maria Sanchez, saw their water bills rise.
Sanchez, a White Plains resident who owns Noel Laundromat on Post Road, said she didn't raise prices at her business because she was afraid it would turn away customers and drag down her bottom line. However, steady water rate increases have put her business $17,000 in debt.
"A lot of people come because it's cheap and I don't want to lose them," said Sanchez, who paid $5,000 to $6,000 every six months for water in 2006 and now pays $7,000 to $8,000 every three months. "It's too much. How can businesses make it with this? I don't make enough to pay the water."
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