Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Plainfield and How It Got That Way

Talking to a newcomer recently made me aware of how hard it is to understand aspects of Plainfield.

Take the city’s way of dealing with sewage and garbage, for example.

Plainfield’s sewer system was built in 1913 and for many years a sewer utility handled that vital operation that is mostly out of sight, out of mind (except when it backs up). In 1995, the city handed over that responsibility to a free-standing authority, the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority. Later the PMUA took over garbage removal, first with a contracted operation and then with its own fleet and staff.

Plainfield also used to own most of a larger sewer system, the Plainfield Joint Meeting, which served about a dozen municipalities. After eight long years of negotiations involving about 17 attorneys, the city sold off its holdings for (Correction: $8.9) $1.8 million, a hotly-disputed amount that left many Plainfielders feeling they had been bilked. The money was supposed to be held for future sewer repairs, as I recall, but was frittered away in one-shot tax relief schemes until it was all gone.

The entity that replaced the Plainfield Joint Meeting was the Plainfield Area Regional Sewerage Authority. Each municipality’s governing body had to sign off on its formation, a time-consuming and nerve-wracking process. PARSA has always been, to my knowledge, a lean, efficient and exemplary operation that has served its members well.

But when you flush a toilet in Plainfield, it is not only the PMUA and PARSA that deal with your sewage. No, there is even a third authority, the Middlesex County Utilities Authority, which treats the sewage in a final step before its release into waterways.

In contrast to a municipality, which can only spend as much money as it can raise in taxes, an authority determines its needs and sets its rates accordingly. While the Plainfielder only sees the PMUA bill, be assured that the other two rates are passed along as costs to the PMUA. In fact, most of a recent PMUA rate increase was due to higher treatment costs that were being passed along.

For many decades, the city’s property owners contracted with private carters for trash removal. That all changed with the advent of the PMUA’s solid waste operations. Many carters went out of business. The PMUA is also in charge of recycling in the city.

So these are some of the changes that took place in Plainfield over the past 10-20 years. This account is anecdotal but based on the facts as I recall them. Let me know if you disagree or have more to add.

--Bernice Paglia


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have some serious concerns about the PMUA, it's formation, operations, questionable fees, etc.

In fact, I'd like to thoroughly investigate the possibility of disbanding the authority. I'm sure that I'm not alone in my sentiments about the PMUA, and plan to start holding open public meetings w/Plnfd residents. Enough is enough!

5:08 PM  
Blogger Sandro said...


I am glad I came across your website Bernice, as I was looking for more information on the PMUA.

I am a relatively new resident, having moved from Summit to Plainfield with my family in 2007.

Having received the new 2009 bill, I compared the sewer rate with the rates charged by the water supply company, NJ Water Co.

Well, I pay like $3.30 for 100s cft of water I can drink, but PMUA is charging $5.78 for disposing it!!!

Another comparison: in Summit, the sewer bill was one order of magnitude less than what I am billed by the PMUA.

Something is definitely not right here.

I agree with anon before that it is time to take actions now.

I just called PMUA to complain and spoke with "Elliot". He suggested to write a letter to the CFO, asking for information/procedure on how these rates are set and approved, which I will do.

Do you have the name of PMUA CFO? I could not find it on the Internet.



2:23 PM  

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