THE BRONX - Officials from the Bloomberg administration faced questions Wednesday about a whopping 11.5 percent water rate hike.

A City Council panel asked city administrators why the Water Board ignored the public outcry over the hike and why the board needs $75 million to subsidize the increase. Elected officials said the mayor should use some of the $4 billion budget surplus instead of implementing a tax on the middle class.

The board approved the increase ? the largest since 1992 ? Monday. The hike means the average Bronx homeowner will pay an extra $72 per water bill. The Water Board argues the hike is justified because the city's water rates have been lower than the national average for years.

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