The needler in the haystack.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Council-PMUA discussion: Déjà vu all over again?




Was it, as Yogi would say, 'Déjà vu all over again?'

When
Plainfield's City Council and the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority (PMUA) commissioners, general counsel and executive staff sat down together Monday evening for what has become something of an annual rite of shadowboxing, one could have been excused for recalling the Yogiism.

After all, here we were a year later, and, under Councilor Burney's careful questioning using his summary of last year's agreement as a guide (see here), we  learned that in the last twelve months the PMUA had addressed some of the issues as follows --
TRAVEL
After the glare of publicity over last year's junket to the West Coast on the ratepayers' dime, and the rules put in place by newly elected Gov. Chris Christie earlier this year, travel costs have gone down dramatically -- but not gone away.

TRANSPARENCY
It was noted the PMUA website now sports agendas, but still not minutes or resolutions. Executive Director Watson replied the matter is being worked on and would hopefully be addressed by September.

CONSOLIDATION OF OPERATIONS
There was an extended -- if vague -- discussion of consolidating the PMUA's various operations and facilities, on which, again, Mr. Watson said work was ongoing. (To my mind, the real issue would be the ability to develop on Cottage Place as planned, which cannot be done without the Council's rescinding the redevelopment plan it adopted for the area that calls for mixed-use residential use.)

RESTRUCTURE SEWER RATES
When asked about progress on billing ratepayers at winter water usage rates for the summer months -- as broached a year ago -- PMUA general counsel Lesley London said that the independent rating consultant's report concluded the amount involved is minimal, the current metering arrangement is 'reasonable' and there was no reason to change. (Nevertheless, it is feasible, and it would please customers if given the option, so why not do it?)

SEWER BILLING THROUGH THE CITY
As for trying to get the sewer billing to be made through the city tax bills, to provide tax writeoffs to ratepayers, Mr. Watson (referring to the rate consultant's report) replied that these would be so small that they wouldn't be justified.
On balance, there seemed little real progress on these items from last year (except on travel, where the motivation came from an irresistible force outside of local control).

To Councilor Storch's query (via speakerphone) as to expanding PMUA services outside of Plainfield to help offset the Authority's overhead, both Watson and London reported that it was being worked on, though Watson said he was 'not at liberty' to discuss details.

PMUA counsel London also gave an update on the situation with the Connolly Properties, the bankruptcies and sale of properties involved, and the likelihood of some settlement coming to the PMUA -- no details available yet, and the bankruptcy judge would be the 'decider'.

As for the DumpPMUA lawsuit, she went over the counts dismissed by the judge and the 'shared services' count, on which the judge allowed both sides a great deal of time to argue, but on which she ultimately ruled in favor of the PMUA.

Where the discussion stopped sounding like a complete rehash of last years' with little or no progress was when Councilors McWilliams and Mapp got into discussing shared services fees, in particular why they were so high, and whether they are comparable to what other authorities charge. Mr. Watson replied with some passion that illegal dumping is a 'huge issue' and drives much of the cost (a valid story, but one not well -- or often-enough -- told, in my humble opinion).

When Councilor McWilliams asked about the $4 million expense and whether, since it was contractual, the city could not go out to bid for another vendor, you could practically see the heads spin.

It was quickly pointed out, both by the PMUA and by Corporation Counsel, that this was a matter of an Interlocal Services Agreement and would have to be negotiated by the parties.

Maybe the Council should investigate more deeply here, and not be afraid to be somewhat litigious in the face of PMUA resistance if changes could save the ratepayers money.

And, of course, that resistance would come from the PMUA Board of Commissioners, which Mr. Watson had written to Councilor McWilliams, is in desperate need of having appointments refreshed. Four of the seven members are on holdover status, not a good way to run an authority.

Which leads us to the role of Mayor Robinson-Briggs, who must nominate Commissioners.

Why no action in so long?


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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2 comments:

Pat said...

I attended.
These are my additional notes:
1. Eric Watson insists the PMUA was necessary lo those many years ago because of extensive illegal dumping; last night he talked about the current situation, extensive illegal dumping.
2. Are City Council members serious that they're prepared to raise local property taxes? Isn't that one of the main reasons the council formed the PMUA?
3. Is PMUA a social service agency, created to provide jobs for people "coming home" (last night's best euphemism)?
4. Will ratepayers once again pony up for the September carnival? We who pay the bills can press our noses to the plexiglass and watch the PMUA folks chow down on platters of shrimp, etc.

Anonymous said...

The PMUA has already started their plans for the big Sept carnival. They have a planner who is paid several thousand dollars. The agency is nothing more than a political job hand out at taxpayer expense. Take a look at who is on their roster for employment. A few of the names include some relatives or politically connected big wigs from the democratic party.