Friday, February 20, 2009

Crowd Complains at PMUA Reorg

Normally an occasion for formalities, the annual reorganization of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority this year turned into an amalgam of economic woes and ratepayer dissent.

Commissioners re-elected Carol Brokaw as chairwoman, Harold Mitchell as vice chair, Alex Toliver as secretary and Dave Beck as treasurer and named official newspapers and financial institutions, among many other actions. But in the finance report, officials said the authority suffered reduced revenues and increased expenses in 2008, along with high fuel oil costs in the first three quarters, leading to a budget gap. To address the gap, the authority has made layoffs and imposed 10-day furloughs on all staff, including executives.

Details will appear in the upcoming newsletter that is sent to all city households.

The small meeting room at 127 Roosevelt Avenue was packed with residents, many from the Hillside Area Neighborhood Watch, where a movement to opt out of PMUA solid waste pickup is gathering strength. Note: Those who opt out must show proof they have contracted with a trash disposal company.

In emotional but largely civil exchanges, PMUA commissioners and executives responded to residents’ concerns about shared service charges billed even to those who opt out, perceived lack of proper legal notice for a rate hearing and surcharges for such things as putting out extra bags of trash and leaving container lids open.

The shared service charges cover downtown trash pickup as well as garbage pickup in municipal buildings and city parks, PMUA Executive Director Eric Watson said. PMUA attorney Leslie London cited state statutes that backed up the need only to provide notice of a hearing at which rate adjustments might be made. Officials conceded that some of the surcharges could be negotiated in the case of first-time mistakes.

One of the most outspoken residents was Philip Charles, who said he was concerned about the “retroactive raise in rates” and the adequacy of public notice for the Jan.22 rate hearing. Brokaw explained that the rates set that night were for the first quarter of the year and London said Charles had quoted a statute on rate hikes that referred to commercial haulers.

Charles also said he went through the complicated steps to opt out, only to be told at the end he did not do it correctly.

Resident Janet Bostic-Evans spoke about her struggle to resolve an overbilling problem by New Jersey American Water that then caused her PMUA bill to jump from $309 per quarter to $818. She said she talked to several other people with the same problem whose bills were adjusted, but hers was not. She asked why PMUA did not investigate sudden spikes in billing.

“My anger and frustration is with the staff,” she said.

Brokaw countered with her own example of a PSE&G bill that jumped from $300 to $900, which eventually got adjusted.

“I understand your frustration,” she said, asking Bostic-Evans to keep the authority abreast of her situation.

Bostic-Evans also asked whether the authority was marketing its services to other municipalities. Brokaw said the Rock Avenue transfer station had recently been expanded and the authority was marketing itself outside Plainfield, with no success so far.

‘There are some political issues, as you can imagine,” Brokaw said.

Brokaw had to bang her gavel repeatedly after Watson and resident Bob Chanda got into a heated exchange over surcharges for such things as not taking receptacles off the curb within a certain time. Chanda called the fines “penny-ante baloney” and also complained about limits on free bulk pickups, which brought an impassioned defense from Watson.

Several residents spoke more than once and exchanged phone numbers to organize future protests, some even calling for a return to private trash plans that preceded formation of the authority in 1995. But Watson said commercial haulers were suffering in the economic collapse, laying off people and also having to raise rates.

London said the authority is under the constraint of Union County waste flow rules that prevent going to the open market. All trash must be directed to the Union County Utility Authority’s disposal facility, she said. Watson noted that the PMUA had to declare a “pay to put” estimate for how much trash would be generated, but illegal dumping, both from Plainfield and out of town, has caused overages for which PMUA is charged extra per ton.

Residents told PMUA to expect a groundswell of opting out of solid waste pickup and further objections to its rates and rules. But Watson defended the authority, saying it has made the city clean. At its inception, he said, the authority held eight bulk pickups a year to cope with the pent-up trash residents had accumulated instead of paying carters to take it away.

--Bernice Paglia


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be nice if the PMUA, a political creation for the purpose of job creation, would have something positive to say beside that the city is cleaner? Of course the city is cleaner. But the issue is whether the PMUA needed to be created to achieve that result. Since no feasibility study was ever made, we will never know. But before "six figure" Eric Watson, a pay-for-play employee and close pal/factotum of Assemblymen Jerry Green, pats himself on the back, I suggest he explain the filth that overflows from the containers on Sunday and the chronc filth on the NJ Transit North Avenue ROW. Oh I forgot, it's the illegal occupancies on North Avenue and elsewhere that explain the Sunday stench, and it is the citizens job-you & me-to patrol the NJ Transit ROW. Sounds like Eric Watson, etc. can't get the job done. Has he become a liability for the "leader"?

1:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Read the old press releases, the PMUA was to have a "Hit Squad" that would go out to lots and roadways to clean up. Now it just sends bills and says "Town wide cleanup? That's not my job"

3:15 PM  
Blogger Bernice said...

In all fairness, there have been several dozen property cleanups this year and liens were placed yo recoup the costs.

4:21 PM  
Anonymous Lilas Borsa Donahue said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:24 PM  
Anonymous Brian Kramer said...

Hi Bernice,

Thanks for keeping eveyone so well informed! It is appreciated.

I too an frustrated by the PMUA. I go crazy whenever we got those very expensive color glossy news letters that have virtually no useful information in them. I own a 4 family house in town and I pay the PMUA over $2000 a year for garbage and sewar. I only have 5 people living there. The bill has become a burden. I would be happy to opt out, but they do make it very difficult. That and the "common charge". I have often wondered if it is legal. Shouldn't the city taxes pay to keep the city clean? If there is a movement to opt out, I would love to join!

9:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for reporting. I had several issues with comments made by Mr. Watson or the governing board.
* No one is or was disputing the cleanliness of the city. There needs to be balance with respect to the fees paid. Look at three surrounding towns: Westfield, Scotch Plains, and South Plainfield. They are equally as clean and their residents pay between $22-$31 per month for solid waste. The upkeep of neighborhood parks and the downtown is paid for through taxes. If Plainfield taxes aren’t supporting the upkeep of these areas, I know where I will be spending my free time once the issues with PMUA are resolved.
* To say that PMUA lost its biggest account - Muhlenberg is unacceptable. We all lost with its closing; however, a commercial account should not subject residents to pick up the burden. If on every other claim, PMUA cites solid waste is by the ton, they would simply have less tons of waste. Maybe PMUA should re-evaluate and consider contracting out the solid waste. They might see savings of $15 per household per month. Oh wait, that would mean they wouldn’t need to lease cars at $299 per month for 39 months.
* The regulations stated by Ms. London aren’t the only regulations that apply to PMUA. However, according to the regulations she pointed out, residents needed to be notified in the public notice or through writing what the new or amended rates might be. Here is an example of what the notice in writing should have stated, “The purpose of this public hearing is to propose amendments to the rate schedule to be effective April 1, 2009 as follows: sewer from x to x; solid waste from x to x” But the PMUA's public notice stated, “The public hearing is to discuss and take action with respect to adjustments to certain sanitary sewer and solid waste charges, rates, and fees.” This notice does not inform residents whether rates will increase or decrease. More importantly it doesn’t provide residents with adequate notice as to what those rates might be amended to. I will contest that the notice and subsequent approval of retroactive rates is in direct violation of our rights. I have included a statement to that with my bill and will send PMUA a certified letter with the same. What’s really good about all of this is that PMUA admitted to it at their last meeting. I will be sure to get a copy of the audio transcript and meeting minutes.

Finally, if the PMUA thinks that the last meeting was intense, I have already spoken to five people who are going to the next meeting on March 17 @7pm. They also said they are going to speak to some of their neighbors. ENOUGH is ENOUGH! There is a website that is currently in its infancy stages but will assist the grassroots movement in getting the word out:

6:18 AM  
Anonymous Lilas Borsa Donahue said...

Mr. Kramer,

Please feel free to contact me at for for information about opting out.

9:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aren't the very people who run PMUA now and claim they cleaned up Plainfield, the same people who used to work for the city? Weren't they tasked with keeping the Plainfield clean when they worked for Plainfield?

If they think this city is clean, they should come to my area and see the trash which is thrown out on the street. If they want to change my mind about opting out, they will come up with a campaign to Pretty up Plainfield.

9:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bernice, I thank you for taking the time & making the sacrifice to share this information with Plainfield residents.
I am a baby-boomer. We changed the world in the 60's & 70's with our protests and demands for civil liberties & equal rights! And, then we got married, had kids, took on debt, and the world turned around and changed us into complacent (& sometimes complicit) adults. As I stated at last week's PMUA meeting, I have been re-inspired by the recent election of President Obama. I know that the only way to make effective changes in the system & community is to be a participant in the efforts to make change. So, I plan to attend as many public mtgs. in town as I'm able, & to share what I've learned throughout my professional life to make my community better!
Regarding the PMUA, there is NO doubt about the need for more transparency! Mr. Watson's defensive & almost snide responses to inquiries were offensive! If he's going to wear the hat & collect the salary of ED, then he needs to man-up & wear the pants, too! Getting nasty & angry w/residents for asking questions about how their money is being spent is unprofessional! The responses that were given were laughable to questions like: Why is it necessary to buy a car when it w/b cheaper to reimburse for mileage? Why does the PMUA need to hire a compliance officer when it's supposedly in the middle of a down-sizing effort? And at what cost? And what will that person be doing?(I wonder how many single heads of households lost their jobs to pay for that position?)
I've been making some calls since that meeting, and so far... it doesn't look like the residents of Plainfield are being told the whole truth and nothing but the truth!

Janet L. Bostic-Evans

10:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You selfish fools do you understand what the pmua is and what it means for Black People and also the support of Black councilmen and mayors? Black Masons? The Election of Obama and Black Rights? Black Social Workers Jobs for Blacks? Support it because it could be totally different most of these contracts are usually owned and moved forward by Italian Americans and it still could. Then 50% of these problems would be something else all of the problems mentioned in this artical are critical but can be handled and resolved support the pmua or give your money to the Italians. In no way are these comments are about race towards Italians or Blacks and should be recognized with out prejudice. Thank you.

12:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All worker in the PMUA,including Assemblymen Jerry Green, Eric Watson and other city employees should be tested for DRUGS.

11:51 AM  

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