I posted a comment on one of the local blogs earlier this morning, but it occurred to me that, since I was responding to a post from several days ago, it might go unnoticed. So, I am just revising that response and placing it here, on my own blog. I have been receiving emails and documents from organized groups (such as "DUMP PMUA" and members of block/neighborhood area associations) as well as from beleaguered individual homeowners, seniors, and other residents who continue to complain about the PMUA rates--this correspondence has been heightened over the past few weeks, since appointments to the authority are being considered at this time.
Although organized groups are often more vocal about their concerns, I just wanted to make sure that everyone understands that the complaints come from all across the city--not just from one ward or one or two blocks in a ward, or from those at higher income levels.
I received my first quarter PMUA bill in the mail yesterday, so it seems timely to say something about the authority. I also want to just clarify a couple of things having to do with how the burden of increases is shared. Right now, the solid waste residential rate for a single family household is $199.38 per quarter. ALL single family households residents pay the same rate, so those who have less money are actually paying out a LARGER SHARE of their income for this service. Adding my quarterly sewer* charges ($157.51) to this bill means that I am paying a total of $356.89 per quarter, or over $1,400.00 per year.
If one makes $25,000 per year and has to pay the PMUA over $1,400.00 a year, one is spending a LARGER portion of one's income on this service than those who are earning $35,000 or $50,000 or more per year. Any increases in the rates hurt seniors, those living alone, single parents with young children, and other working-class and middle-income folks much more than any higher-income groups in this city. Renters are also deeply affected, as landlords often raise rates on tenants when their own rates increase.
My focus for my campaign was, of course, the 2nd and 3rd wards, since that it was the at-large seat I was campaigning for. When I was out campaigning last spring, the folks who complained the most about the PMUA were NOT the more affluent among us, actually, but were those whose budgets were stretched to the absolute limit--senior citizens on fixed incomes, and single individuals, single-parent households, and the working class folks who live in every ward in our city.
Whether I was canvassing on East 6th Street or West 6th Street, Randolph Road, Park Avenue, Fernwood Avenue, Columbia Avenue, George Street, Watchung Avenue, Dorsey Place, Leland Avenue, Richmond Street, Essex Street, Berckman Street, Central Street, Sleepy Hollow Lane, West 4th Street, West 7th Street or East 7th Street, Sterling Street, etc., the complaints about the high bills were the same across ALL income levels.
The income levels may be higher in some areas, but I would ask that you actually look up the facts on the income levels in all the neighborhoods in Plainfield. Increases in taxes and municipal service rates have always come down harder on those with the least ability to pay them.
During the spring campaign canvassing, I had to mark all my sheets with specific notes--there was at least one notation of "PMUA!" on virtually every block. Let me add, however, that no one complained (at least not to me) about the front-line workers, who all agree are doing a good job.
Now, I grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Jamaica, Queens--very similar to Plainfield, in some respects--so the continuing race/class/income discourse is one that I have been a part of all of my life. Some Plainfielders whom I have spoken to find the overall discursive tone troubling of late, as it seems as if there are those who want to pit folks against each other--I see it as mirroring some really negative aspects of the current national discourse. That is not the way to move forward as a city (or as a country), so I reject that kind of discourse as anti-American.
Finally, I am serving as one of the city council liaisons to the PMUA, and I have several ideas that I would like to share with the PMUA management and its commissioners on how we can make the authority fulfill its mission without continuing to raise rates on an already-stretched beyond its means populace. I will keep you posted.
Rebecca*The continuing controversy over the sanitary sewer charges will be taken up in a future post, as well as the approximately $120 per year increase in the solid waste bill for shared services for residents who are considered "non-direct" customers of the PMUA.