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.  


  1. At a time when family homeowners are facing foreclosures due to unemployment, lower salaries, and higher taxes -they now face PMUA putting liens on their homes due to non-payment of garbage pickup. This Councilwoman Williams is a Shame on Plainfield.

    Councilman Reid stated he pays taxes totaling 14,000 dollars on two houses. Well Bill -I pay 15,000 dollars on one home and I get absolutely nothing for it -not even garbage pickup! And . . . I wouldn't even think of sending my children to Plainfield's public school system.

    If PMUA is here to stay then -Why can't garbage and recycles be picked up once a week and bulk pickup upon request.

    Most definitely DUMP PMUA! Oh yeah . . . and while you are at it DUMP SHARON!

  2. Councilwoman Williams,

    I applaud you for your recent vote as it relates to PMUA Commissioner appointments.

    I am sure that the applicants presented by the Mayor are all dedicated residents of Plainfield. It is unfortunate that there are vacancies and carry overs on the board. But the status quo is not working on the Commission and the Administration and the Council must work together to appoint talented individuals who can effectively re-vamp the Authority (or eliminate it).

    I concur that the PMUA topic always arrises at block association meetings. And I recall your commitment to the issue when you campaigned.

    Many devoted Plainfield residents have been speaking out loudly over the past few years about certain changes that should be made to the Authority. . . let me reiterate a few of them as I see,

    - Commissioners should be volunteers without compensation, like Planning Board and Zoning Board Members, (so should Council Members for that matter).

    - residential sewerage charges should be incorporated into ones real estate taxes therefore making them tax deductible. Commercial accounts should be charged based on their water usage.

    - shared services should be put out for bid annually. Hopefully a leaner and more efficient PMUA will win these bids. These fees should also be included in our tax bill therefore making them tax deductible.

    - the Authority's Management staff should be streamlined and reflect the new era of doing more with less. And all Executive Personal compensation packages need to be reviewed and overhauled.

    - PMUA satellite locations need to be consolidated. Rent agreements should be reviewed.

    Good Luck,

    jim spear

  3. Thank you for at least being open to the idea of bringing more cost-effective solutions to residents. You are right, if the PMUA wants to bid on the public areas service, they are free to do so. In either case, collection of waste from these public areas will be tax-deductible. Don't think PMUA isn't going to go down kicking and screaming. Just remind them that we need to do what's right by all residents and not just the 150 people employed by the PMUA. We are in the age of doing more with less. The PMUA has been doing less with more. More money, less services. About 10 years ago we had 8 bulky waste pickups, weekly recycling, and rear year pickup. Not to mention, we could dispose of grass clippings.

  4. Eric Watson's defense of PMUA is that before it existed, Plainfield had dumping all over, and the city could not do their job.

    Didn't Eric Watson work in that very department that he claimed did not do their job? Hmmmmmm

  5. I don't want to know your canvass schedule. I don't want to be told the bills are high. I already know that.

    What are you going to do about it? I hold you and the Council responsible.

  6. What is your timetable for bringing this reform to the PMUA?