About 20 protesters appeared at the Newark Municipal Council meeting last night to oppose the creation of a self-governing utility that would oversee the city’s water and sewer system.
“Calling it a municipal authority is a travesty. By state law, a [municipal utility authority] would no longer be under the control of a municipal government,” Bill Chappel, who belongs to the ad hoc Newark Water Group, said to the council. “It will have an independent board and will dance to the tune of the bondholders, not the residents.”
The administration of Mayor Cory Booker has proposed the creation of an MUA as one option to manage the city’s water and sewer system, which serves half a million customers in Newark, Bloomfield, Belleville, Nutley, Elizabeth and elsewhere.
The administration did not immediately respond to questions emailed yesterday afternoon.
The system includes reservoirs and land in Passaic, Morris and Sussex counties, property managed by the 40-year-old Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corp. Chappel and other critics say that while this agency’s formal role is limited to managing the property and reservoirs, in practice, the agency runs every aspect of the city’s water system and is poised to officially assume that role should a utility authority be created.
Authorities are special agencies created to carry out a specific function and operate largely as governments unto themselves, with appointed board members who do not answer directly to elected officials. Authorities also have the ability to bond, or borrow, money to carry out the purpose for which they were created.
The state’s two main highways, the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway, are operated by an authority funded by tolls. The Port Authority of New and New Jersey, which operates the region’s airports, seaports, bridges and other infrastructure, are also funded through tolls.
A local authority would be funded through water and sewer fees.
Chappel and other critics fear that city residents would effectively lose control of their own water supply should an MUA be created. The Newark Water Group also believes water and sewer fees would be used for short-term budget fixes instead of repairs to the sprawling system’s aging infrastructure.
“In the year 2014, after Booker has left town, desperate senior citizens on fixed income and people with low income will be coming to you with their sky-high water bills. What will you tell them?” Chappel asked the council. “‘Oh, we let Booker balance the budget in 2012 by selling MUA bonds?’ I can guarantee the voters will remember the MUA next election.”
Critics also worry that an MUA would become a patronage mill, where politically connected appointees and contractors would reap windfalls at ratepayers’ expense. Earlier this year, the council blasted the Newark Watershed corporation for what some deemed to be its cronyism and excessive spending.
Council members addressing the issue last night also expressed their resistance to an MUA.
Councilwoman-at-Large Mildred Crump asked for a copy of a lapel button, worn by Chappel, with the letters “MUA” bisected by a red slash. West Ward Councilman Ron Rice described municipal authorities as “Frankensteins,” referring to the town of Marlboro, where Rice said a local authority proved disastrous for that community.
“Any kind of agreement like this is self-perpetuating,” Rice said. “It becomes protective of its board. It becomes protective of its employees.”
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.Write a new post...What do you want to share?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something