Thursday, May 28, 2009

Report on "Water Issues" Meeting

City residents can have a $2,800 separate meter installed if they want to sort out lawn watering from domestic uses, or they could seek a winter month averaging plan for water bills, attendees at Assemblyman Jerry Green's meeting found out Thursday. Another alternate to reduce water bills is to conserve, by fixing leaky faucets and such measures, a New Jersey American Water representative said.

Green foreshadowed Thursday's meeting in a May 18 blog entry in which he promised to apprise the public of the date, but there was no public notice. Plaintalker received less than 24 hours' notice by e-mail from a civic group. As stated in the e-mail, the audience was mostly members of the Democratic City Committee , Green, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and water company representatives.

In addition, speakers Thursday included Sunil K. Garg, executive director of the Union County Utilities Authority and Commissioner Bill Populus of the Plainfield Area Regional Sewerage Authority.

The meeting was billed as a followup to a May 12 meeting arranged by the Friends of Sleepy Hollow on the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority, but except for PMUA Commissioner Alex Toliver, who is also on the Democratic City Committee and was in the audience, there was no speaker from PMUA.

Green, who managed to misstate the authority's acronym as PUMA, said the meeting was called to educate the community on their rights. PMUA manages both sewer and solid waste for the citry and the discussion covered both aspects.

Jason Gonzalez, vice president for governmental affairs for New Jersey American Water, described the options for lowering water bills. Besides separating outdoor uses from household ones with a separate meter or restructuring the billing plan, Gonzalez stressed the importance of water conservation. He said the company has an ongoing educational program on the subject for customers.

Despite some questions on getting around the $2,800 separate meter cost, company representatives said while the initial household hookup is free, adding a meter incurs costs for equipment, material and time that cannot be set aside. The one-time fee may be worth the cost for homes that have large irrigation systems or similar outside use, speakers said.

Gonzalez noted that water usage costs may also be ameliorated by a payment assistance plan aavailable to homeowners who meet income eligibility guidelines.

Populus described the work of PARSA, which conveys sewage from eight communities over 20 miles of pipes. Although he did not specify it, the waste conveyed by PMUA and then PARSA ultimately comes under the jurisdiction of a third agency, the Middlesex County Utilities Authority, for treatment before ocean disposal.

As the meeting moved on to solid waste issues, Garg described the rules that mandate disposal of all Union County municipal solid waste and bulky waste at the Rahway waste-to-energy plant that was established in 1998. Plainfield was one of 14 municipalities that signed on to an agreement then that locked in a preferential rate for disposal that is $30 less per ton than that of the seven municipalities which did not join, he said.

Green took credit for establishing the UCUA while he was a Union County freeholder chairman. He also said Plainfield had members on the UCUA board early on and he hopes to have some again.

Although Green talked about what city government needs to do, such as naming commissioners to the various authorities, it seemed he expected the action to take place within the confines of the Democratic Party.

The only governing body members present were Council President Rashid Burney and Councilwoman Linda Carter.

With some major entities lacking for the debate, it remains to be seen whether it will advance the public's awareness and understanding of the issues surrounding water use and solid waste disposal. Stay tuned for post-primary enlightenment.

--Bernice Paglia


Anonymous Anonymous said...

EXACTLY! See below. PMUA dumps at Rahway or Elizabeth at $30 less PER TON than private haulers yet their rates are exorbitant. ENOUGH SAID! FIRE PMUA!

"As the meeting moved on to solid waste issues, Garg described the rules that mandate disposal of all Union County municipal solid waste and bulky waste at the Rahway waste-to-energy plant that was established in 1998. Plainfield was one of 14 municipalities that signed on to an agreement then that locked in a preferential rate for disposal that is $30 less per ton than that of the seven municipalities which did not join, he said."

10:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would the 2 meters mean a smaller Water Co bill ?? I think not, only if the PMUA subtracted the outside meter flow you might get a smallet PMUA bill. You could also drill a shallow well for nonpotable uses anyway and pay a ZERO water bill for irrigation.


8:31 AM  
Anonymous PubliusNJ said...


1 It's was a silly, politically theatrical meeting, which should not be covered by the blogs or news organizations with any sense of legitimacy.

2 If you're serious about reducing your sewer bill, work to reduce the rate charged per gallon by the PMUA or other related entities. Or, more practically for the average homeowner, just use less water, period. And not by "fixing leaky faucets", which might save pennies or dollars at best, but by significantly reducing water use. Stop watering the lawn. Recycle gray water or collect rainwater for the garden. Wash your car once a season, not once a week. Identify, reduce or eliminate all of your other wasteful water practices. The leadership of the city should be in the forefront of this, and they're not. That's bad leadership.

3 Which brings us to Rashid Burney. In his blog today he reports learning of the method that only uses water flow during the winter months as a basis for calculating the sewer charges. I'm surprised he's just learning of it now, but whatever. He suggests that this might be pursed as a more equitable way of billing. But is it?

The way water waste charges are now calculated, based on yearly water flow, is essentially a progressive tax. Larger houses with larger lawns (have you seen Burney's lawn?) now pay more based on their overall water use. Smaller homes, with small or no lawns, pay less. They already essentially pay mostly, or entirely, for indoor use.

Modifying the billing method to eliminate summer water use in the calculation would benefit those who water large lawns or those with pools. That generally means those with bigger houses, and probably more money.

But the since a simple billing change would do nothing to reduce the amount of waste water that PMUA handles, their costs would not be reduced, and therefore would need the same income. To maintain that income, since they would have less "units" to bill, they would have to raise the rate per unit. That would mean higher bills for smaller homes with less outdoor use. So those with less would be "taxed" more.

That might not be so inequitable in a town where there is a fairly narrow range of property sizes and values, but Plainfield is not that town. From slums to mansions, we've got them all. If you are serious about governing the whole town, and not just part of it, it's a bad idea to modify the billing method now in use.

4 Which of course brings us to Jerry Green. (It's getting increasingly depressing that too many roads lead to Jerry Green.)
WIIFJ? What's In It For Jerry? That's a question that should be asked every single time he appears anywhere, or gets his name or picture printed or posted.

Well, first of all, Jerry's immediate neighbors have some of the largest lawns in Plainfield. No 4th Ward modesty for them.

Second, his newly found affection for the FOSH constituency must mean something. Is he weakening? Does Sharon need more 2nd Ward votes? I doubt that this is the year he'll get deposed, but by his own telling of his story, he has a long-term mindset. What is sown now will be reaped later. So if he needs to counter a rise in anti-Jerryism in one quarter, he needs to suck up to another.

But, third, support for changing the water calculation would create a tension between two voting blocks. A very tricky balancing act, even for a political genius. My guess is that he'll use disinformation to both parties to try to bamboozle all. Voters, bloggers, community organizers, et al: don't let him get away with it.

And four, FOSHers: do you really want this guy sucking up to you?

10:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A separate meter would mean a smaller water bill because you would not be paying for watering your lawn or washing your car.

11:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

11:22 is correct but I think he/she meant a second water meter would mean that you are not paying sewer charges for watering your lawn. You woulds still pay water usage charges.

If the costs were not so high, I would go for it.

Otherwise, I think PMUA should change to the winter usage billing.

7:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the pmua rate for sewer makes no sense. they don't really have a formula other than to cover expenses. how many sewer staff do they have? they always point to PARSA as being the drain and it may very well be part of it BUT when PMUA's administrative costs exceed $2 million for sewer alone THAT"S CRAZY!!!!!!!!!!

5:23 AM  

I'm not sure what the meeting was about. Sure the water company might be able to help with a meter but the real problem is still the PMUA. There is certainly no reason that costs to dispose of waste water are so excessive. This is nothing more than extortion by PMUA. Remember PMUA maintains the lines - THEY DON'T BUILD OR FIX THEM! When connections need to be made they HIRE contractors. PMUA is nothing more than a middle-man who takes most of what we pay and uses it for trips, pensions, and NO show jobs! Ask PMUA how many of the 150 employees show up to work each day and it's something like 65 - YET ALL ARE PAID! It's nothing more than a patronage company hiding behind the beaurocratic game.

Even the water bill hasn't increased anywhere near the 100% that the PMUA bill has since 2000. Does PMUA think we are stupid? WATER is still more of a commodity than trash and sewer - Well EXCEPT FOR IN PLAINFIELD!!!!!!!!!!!!!

2:45 PM  

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