Crowd Complains at PMUA Reorg
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.