The Business of the City: Miscellaneous

Thursday, January 27, 2011

PMUA: "Setting the Record Straight" on Burden of Cost to Ratepayers

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. 

All best,
*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.  

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Winter Monday

"There is nothing so pitiful as a young cynic because he has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing." --Maya Angelou*

Yesterday, I made my first pledge to you on this blog—that pledge was to do my best to make sure that all Plainfield residents feel safe and secure in their homes and their persons. Today, I went to a funeral and homegoing for a young person, 16 year-old Shawane Lovely, who was gunned down last Sunday here in Plainfield. Shawane not only should have felt safe, he should have been safe. I was asked to say a few words at that funeral, but I demurred—there were no words I could conjure on the spur of the moment that I felt would add to the occasion, so I left my personal condolences in the visitor’s book. 

As this boy’s life was remembered, as he was grieved by his family and literally hundreds of school mates from Plainfield High School, I was finding it difficult at that moment to express anything but despair. But despair is not enough. Sadness is not enough. Hope is what kids need—hope coupled with actions that will show them that we truly care about them and the struggles they face in their young lives. 

As I am reflecting now, a few hours later, I am thinking about what we, as adults, need to do. I speak to young people every day in my professional life, but in this kind of circumstance, I don’t know exactly what I would say to the young folks, the youth of Plainfield. 

But I do know what I would say to the adults among us. It has to do with cynicism and despair. We, as adults, must not succumb to cynicism and despair, for, if we do, the battle is over. If we give in, we may as well be saying, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” I am not prepared to say that. We, as adults, are (or ought to be) the role models for our kids.

It is for us, as adults, to give them hope and keep them from harm—to ensure that they outlive us, as much as the Almighty deems it possible.

For, if we are not strong enough to withstand these emotions, how can they be? How can they, with so little knowledge of the world and its vagaries, withstand? 

All best, Plainfield, in hope and possibility,


*This quote was placed on the Facebook status page of one of my friends—quite fitting.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Time to Stand and Deliver

As your new councilor, I want to restate my goals as your public servant for the next four years. My service on the Plainfield City Council will be focused on good government. 

We are all aware of the issues facing Plainfield, and my pledge to you is that I will do my best to make sure that all Plainfield residents can feel safe and secure in their persons and in their homes; that Plainfield will work seriously on economic revitalization; that residents receive a proper accounting of how our tax money is spent; that Plainfield passes the strongest municipal pay-to-play reform ordinance possible; that developers adhere to contracts they have entered into with the city (I am thinking here of the Senior Citizens Center/Veterans Center); and that Plainfield abolishes the "preferred vendor" status and opens true competitive bidding for all public contracts (which will save taxpayers money). 

I also pledge to do my best to ensure that we work with our county and state elected officials to reopen Muhlenberg Hospital; that the Plainfield Public Library, which serves all residents, continues to thrive; that the road projects are completed in a timely and cost-effective fashion; that Cedarbrook Park receives the upgrades that are part of the county's master plan; that recreational activities for all Plainfield residents are enhanced; that all city business is conducted with transparency; and that I will offer honest and ethical leadership. I take my role very seriously, and I hope to prove that in the coming years. 

In addition to serving as the Councilwoman At-large for the Second and Third Wards, I will be serving as a member of the following Standing, Administrative, and Oversight Committees, which must submit reports at the Agenda Fixing meetings each month:

Economic & Community Development Committee
Chair: Cory Storch; Members: Annie McWilliams, Rebecca Williams
Public Safety Committee
Chair: Bridget Rivers; Members: Vera Greaves, Rebecca Williams

Further, I will also be serving as one of the council liaisons and/or alternates for the following:

Cable TV Advisory Committee: Liaison (with Councilors McWilliams and Greaves)
Green Brook Flood Control Commission: Alternate (Councilor Mapp is primary liaison)
Muhlenberg Community Advisory Group: Liaison (with Councilors McWilliams and Reid)
Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs (PACHA): Primary Liaison
Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority (PMUA): Alternate (Councilor Rivers is primary liaison)
Shade Tree Commission: Primary Liaison (Councilor Storch is alternate)

Finally, Council President McWilliams has scheduled Town Hall meetings in each of the wards--the schedule is listed as follows:

Ward 1, Emerson Community School: Thursday, March 31, 2011 at  7:00 pm
Ward 2, Cook School: Thursday, April 21, 2011 at 7:00 pm
Ward 3, Cedarbrook School: Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 7:00 pm
Ward 4, Clinton School: Thursday, May 19, 2011 at 7:00 pm
I will post updates and changes as they occur--I will also post links of interest as soon as I can. Thank you again--I have great confidence in you, Plainfield, and I hope that I can inspire your confidence in me as your new elected official in 2011.

All best,