The needler in the haystack.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

New day at the PMUA

TME's David Dziubeck (did I get that right?) making the rate
hearing presentation Tuesday evening.

The feeling of it being a new day at the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority (PMUA) was evident at Tuesday evening's annual reorganization meeting.

The reorganization was preceded by a rate hearing for 2015 rates. In his remarks, Executive Director Dan Williamson noted that prior to his taking the helm, an annual rate review had not always been done.

Because state law requires that authorities' budgets must be balanced and the rates calculated on the number of "EDUs", it only makes sense that there should be annual rate hearings.

"EDUs" were explained by Williamson and CFO Duane Young as being the "equivalent of a dwelling unit" -- thus a one-family home is 1 EDU, an 80-unit building is 80 EDUs; businesses and factories are calculated into EDUs using formulas based on numbers of employees.

The rate hearing proposed a 3% reduction in sewer rates. The presentation also explained the basis for raising the connection charges for new construction EDUs from $2,130 to $2,300 per unit. Williamson promised that the rate hearing PowerPoint presentation would be put on the PMUA website (see here).

Discussion by some commissioners of these connection charges revealed that they are not high by comparison with other NJ towns, and also that developers plan the fees into their cost-of-doing business scenarios. These fees are assessed at the time of construction, not when development is first proposed (which may be several years earlier).

New commissioners also were introduced to New Jersey's budget process, where the state reviews all governmental and authority budget proposals and must approve them before the agency can then adopt them. Consequently, budget documents will carry two dates: the date of introduction and the date of final passage. Young noted that the state had only approved the budget verbally and by email that very afternoon, after some last-minute tweaking.

The reorganization meeting proved to be very interesting, offering a hint of a new day at the PMUA. Charles Eke, an alternate, whose vote was not needed Tuesday evening, participated by speakerphone.

Gone were the contentious duo of former Councilor Malcolm R. Dunn and his sidekick and developer Cecil Sanders, replaced now by new commissioners Henry Robinson, a retired Fire Division battalion commander, and Michele Graham-Lyons, a financial planner. Together with Charles Tyndale, appointed by Mayor Mapp in 2014, there appears to be a majority prepared to challenge business-as-usual assumptions at the solid waste agency.

Tyndale was elected chairperson, with Graham-Lyons as vice-chair, Robinson as secretary and Carol Ann Brokaw as treasurer.

That things were going to proceed differently from now on became clear early on in the agenda when Tyndale balked at taking up the annual professional services contract appointments (engineering consultants, general and labor counsel, and a financial services consultant), saying that he wanted the new members to have a chance to vet the proposals and that he himself had questions about some of them.

After consultation with a staffer, PMUA Counsel Leslie London averred that the decision could be put off until next month.

Most of the rest of the reorganization resolutions -- concerning annually required appointment and designations -- were passed unanimously on roll call votes.

Graham-Lyons did abstain on the two budget resolutions, which may indicate that she did not want to vote on a matter in which she had not participated previously.

Two interesting items were --

  • A resolution settling the severance pay lawsuit by former CFO James Perry in the amount of $200,000. Commissioners Mitchell and Brokaw, who had been the only ones to oppose the settlement with former employees Watson and Ervin orchestrated by Dunn, Sanders and then-commissioner Alex Toliver, said they were voting "yes" reluctantly; and

  • A resolution eliminating health benefits to the two grandfathered commissioners -- Brokaw and Mitchell -- effective May 31.
Councilor Cory Storch, the only member of Council present, introduced himself as "a ratepayer first, and a Councilor second", congratulating the new members and urging continued work on rate reduction.

Mayor Mapp also offered congratulations to the new board and pressed them to take up his proposal to "make the City the PMUA's primary customer", allowing the City to bill the sewer and solid waste services in the property tax bills. This would, hopefully, allow homeowners to get a tax deduction on their PMUA rates -- which is not currently a possibility.

Former mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs was also in attendance, congratulated the board and offered her services as "a top notch Number One volunteer" -- whatever that may mean.

My wish list would be for the Commissioners to take up two other pet peeves --

  • The time of the business meetings: At 6:00 PM, it is not really a reasonable hour for folks who work; a 7:30 PM start time would show a more positive concern for public participation; and

  • The layout of the room: The "new" layout with the executive staff table in the center of the room and seating for the public and staff around the walls makes it hard to follow the action; it was much better when the executives' table was to one side and there was audience-style seating facing the commissioners.
One last note is the presence of staffers at these meetings. I counted nine staffers in attendance, but only two had any part in the meeting: one person advanced the PowerPoint slides for the presentation, and another dialed in Commissioner Eke on the speakerphone (...eventually).

The question is: Are these staffers being paid on the clock or with comp time for being at these meetings? If so, wouldn't it be prudent only to have staff on hand who actually have items on the agenda? It might be a small savings, but it would send another signal that the Commissioners are watching out for the ratepayers.

Not to mention letting the employees spend an evening with their families.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Anonymous said...

Funny... she shows so much more "interest" since she lost her job than when she had it... I guess trying to change your image from "missing in action mayor" to concerned heartfelt do-gooder is very time consuming... that or the job Jerry gave her requires her to only show up on payday..