Never mind that the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority has gone from the days of double-digit increases to no recent rate hikes, City Council members and citizens still want lower rates for sewer and solid waste services.
"They need to be reduced, they need to be reduced, they need to be reduced!" Councilwoman Gloria Taylor chanted to make the point Monday when PMUA officials met with the governing body.
"I can barely pay mine," Taylor said,.
"You really have the spirit of Plainfield ratepayer," resident Thomas Crownover told Taylor in public comment.
Crownover and many others, including then-Councilman Adrian Mapp called for the authority to be disbanded in 2011. Since becoming mayor in 2014, Mapp has managed to fill all seats on the PMUA board of commissioners with his appointees, though the governing body has rejected Crownover several times.
PMUA Executive Director Daniel Mejias named staff reduction, increased outside revenues and close analysis of operations as measures taken to keep rates level during his eight-month tenure. But he also cited adverse changes such as income from recycled cardboard dropping from $150 per ton to $50 as part of the ongoing struggle to stabilize rates.
Mejias said staff has dropped from 171 to 133. By negotiating for health benefits, he said, the authority saw a drop from a 13.9 percent proposed increase to 5 percent to zero. To address a suggestion for shared costs with the city Division of Public Works, the authority is looking into possible sharing of its GIS equipment tracking system. The authority is also now cooperating with the DPW and the Police Division to address the costly nuisance of illegal dumping.
In addition, the authority continues to increase outside revenues by expanding services offered to nearby municipalities.
Mejias is only the third executive director in the authority's 20-year history. The current director of Public Works & Urban Development, Eric Watson, became the original executive director when the authority was created in 1995. He had held the city title under Mayor Mark Fury and returned to the post in September 2014.
Taylor pointed out the transition, saying, "I have issues," and praising Watson before telling Mejias, "I think he is an expert. Perhaps he is the person you should talk to."
Some of the talk Monday of returning authority responsibilities to the city glossed over the fact that it is an autonomous entity, though Crownover, the executive director of a Metuchen authority, has said dissolving it is not difficult.On Monday, he predicted savings of $3 million if the DPW took over shared services, which is a charge to all property owners for cleanup of parks, municipal buildings and other public areas.
Another factor in replacing the authority with city Public Works would be how to handle solid waste collection. Prior to the inception of the PMUA, residents made their own arrangements with private carters. The city would fall heir to the responsibility for fleet maintenance and replacement if it took on solid waste collection, but property owners might see an advantage in solid waste and sewer tax write-offs.
Although there was plenty of talk about how much better other entities handle solid waste and sewer services, the joint meeting ended as it began, with Council President Cory Storch holding out hopes for further cooperation between the city and the authority on mutual concerns. Another meeting will be scheduled in coming months.