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Thursday, May 13, 2010

The dirt about the PMUA's future?

Is there lots of dirt in the PMUA's future?

A letter from a Plainfield planning board member in today's Courier (see here) reminded me of stories that are circulating about plans for the PMUA's future in relation to the much-desired 'one-seat ride' to Manhattan.

That, plus other recent mentions of the PMUA -- by DumpPMUA founder Philip Charles at Monday's Council meeting (see here) and City Council candidate Rebecca Williams in her blog post yesterday (see here) -- got me to rooting around for the PEG on which the story hangs.

And that is this: the Ledger reported in early April (see here) that the feds had committed $200 million to begin work THIS SUMMER on a mile-long tunnel on the Jersey side of the river, the first of three segments for the trans-Hudson project now referred to as ARC (Access to the Region's Core).

Lime green Palisades tunnel segment got funding.

What is the PMUA connection?

Reports are that former Ward 3 council member Malcolm R. Dunn has been pitching the idea of the PMUA bidding for a contract to haul away the dirt from the tunnel excavation.

The project would involve a multi-year (six years is mentioned) contract involving a fleet of heavy-duty dump trucks to transport the rock and dirt from the excavation to an as-yet-undesignated site out of state.

Dunn has connections at the Port Authority (which is partnering with NJ Transit in the project) from his many years of having the maintenance contract for the World Trade Center.

The question of a possible deal for the PMUA comes not only in addition to the comments by candidate Williams and Mr. Charles, but alongside rumors that Assemblyman Jerry Green is distressed by the continuing public relations embarrassments around PMUA expenses.

Removing excavation debris on a massive scale would require equipment and personnel the PMUA currently does not have. Would the PMUA actually go into the dirt-moving business?

I don't think so, but that doesn't mean there couldn't be a money-making angle for the PMUA. The secret, it seems to me, would be in SUBCONTRACTING ITS EXPERTISE IN FLEET SCHEDULING AND MANAGEMENT rather than in directly performing the work.

This would have the advantage of removing the PMUA from certain compliance issues (as a quasi-governmental public authority, for example, it cannot qualify as a minority-owned business), as well as the expense of acquiring and maintaining an actual fleet of vehicles.

If there were a place where this rosy scenario could go awry, it would be in the area of connecting those who merely MANAGE the project activity and those who actually DO THE WORK.

As those who investigate corruption in public works projects (think Halliburton and Iraq) have pointed out, the place for loose and lucrative activity is in the area of SUBCONTRACTORS.
Mr. Toth's letter in today's Courier begins thusly (see here) --
...New Jersey Transit anticipates beginning direct service from Plainfield to Manhattan on the Raritan Valley line in the near future.
Just how soon is 'the near future'?

The Ledger article from April refers to the project being completed IN 2018. While reasonable people may differ on what constitutes 'the near future', you can bet that when it is a large-scale public works project, involving multiple political jurisdictions and agencies, with piecemeal funding, the likelihood that the project will NOT be completed BY 2018 approaches 100% (even if I agreed that 2018 was 'near', which I do not).

In fact, Mr. Dunn would be betting on its NOT being finished in the 'near future', thus making it worth the PMUA's while to consider involvement in the project.

It is the prospect of a long unfolding of the future that makes it attractive at all to entrepreneurially-minded folks.
Is a shakeup coming at the PMUA?

Rumors persist that Assemblyman Green is not happy with the unwanted attention brought on Plainfield and the PMUA by the egregious spending habits of its executives and -- up to this year -- Board of Commissioners.

Things have changed somewhat in recent months. For one thing, Gov. Christie has let public authorities know they better mend their loose-spending ways, and has put limits on travel, per-diem expenses and overnight stays. That has certainly dampened some high spirits.

Secondarily, the PMUA has been eclipsed recently in the media by the uproar over now-disgraced Superintendent of Schools Steve Gallon III, and even the maltreatment of the all-volunteer Queen City Baseball League by Mayor Robinson-Briggs and the Rec Division.

With former mayor and city council member Harold Mitchell in place as chairperson, Assemblyman Green may rest his head a little easier. The luncheon indulgences may be irritating, but they are nickel-and-dime compared to past expense-account abuses (remember the West Coast trip, and a former Council liaison's bar tab?), and are not likely to upset the main benefit of the PMUA to the Assemblyman, as a source of jobs.
Plainfield's fiscal crisis continues, making reabsorption of the PMUA into the city an attractive option to the Council, for two reasons.

First, the reduction in overhead could lead directly to cost savings -- up to $2 million, Councilor Mapp has estimated. When Mapp floated this idea during his mayoral campaign, it was pooh-poohed by, among others, then-Council President Burney.

Now that East Brunswick is eliminating its sewerage authority, with an estimated savings of $500,000 per year (see here), the idea of reabsorbing the PMUA into the city to save money is getting new attention -- particularly from Burney's opponent in the June Democratic primary, Rebecca Williams (see here).

Secondly, an idea only a taxpayer could love -- reabsorbing the PMUA functions (solid waste collection, recycling, and sewer system maintenance) back into the city would give taxpayers a tax deduction that is currently beyond reach because of the structuring of a separate, rate-assessing and -collecting authority.
The real dirt about the PMUA's future?

It may have more to do with saving Plainfield taxpayers money by moving the PMUA back to the city than with any dirt the PMUA may manage moving.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Colleen Gibney said...

Dan-- last I heard, it wasn't being called the ARC Tunnel anymore, but the 'Mass Transit Tunnel'. I'm sure this will change a dozen more times or so before the project is completed.

Anonymous said...

Someone should just eliminate them for the reasons you pointed out in your post. We could save a few hundred each year on our taxes. I suspect the council would rather waste time and energy on the baseball issue. The mayor (and Wynn) should have already been put in their place.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't the outstanding PMUA bonds have to be absorbed into the city budget raising our taxes even more?

active citizen said...

Is the PMUA a not-for-profit agency. If not, it should be. If that were the case, then expensive lunches and overbearing rates wouldn't exist. Let's demand that or demand the dismantling of the PMUA - Plainfield Moron Uselessness Association.

Dan said...

@2:12 PM -- That was raised before and seems like a red herring to me. The PMUA bonds are being paid for by the ratepayers in their PMUA bills. The ratepayers are the taxpayers, in which case they are already being paid for by the taxpayers. Why would that part cost any more than it already does?

Anonymous said...

Dear PMUA exec (aka @ 2:12):
Good try! We are already paying for your bonds. If the PMUA were absorbed by the city, no additional taxes would need to be collected for the debt. Rather then send you crooks the money, we send it to the other city entity. The $20 million tab would actually be reduced to about $10 because we wouldn't need all of your engineers, lawyers, auditors, commissioners, and you.
Finally, we would also being paying the debt rather than re-bonding it every 3-4 years and only paying the interest. In other words, the debt would actual decrease.

Anonymous said...

Dan, in infrastructure development educate and create community consensus, codify the results, update master plan and zoning ordinance...assemble planning, approvals and funding for large or small scale projects and the actual construction of projects...8 years may not be enough understanding is that the main obstacle to a one seat ride is the need for a duel fuel engine...which I am told is being built and that we may get rush hour direct service much sooner with or without the additional tunnel...Billy Toth

Anonymous said...

This is not dirt, it's total BS. The PMUA can't even get the service right here in Plainfield and now they are bidding to haul dirt? The voters need to put the PMUA out of business. Period.

Anonymous said...

When I was the freeholder liaison to the RVC, NJT made it very clear then and still does to this day, that dual mode locomotive will not be introduced to the Raritan Valley line until the new tunnel is completed. The estimated date for completion at that time was 2017. A one seat ride to NYC from Plainfield isn’t coming anytime soon.