Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer went into great detail with Hudson County View when discussing the current and proposed Suez Water deals, calling the latter five times better than what is currently on the books.
Zimmer began by explaining how poor the current deal, with an amendment negotiated by Mayor Anthony Russo in 2001, is and how it pales in comparison to the new deal her administration has come up with.
The mayor also called the way the city council, who didn’t vote on the agenda item at their September 6th meeting after no one sponsored it, handled the situation “disappointing.”
The council felt that too many questions were left unanswered and that it would be irresponsible to approve a new deal, which would extend through 2035, without knowing all the particulars.
She further stated that claims by council members that they uncovered the $8.35 million liability is disingenuous for a number of reasons.
“It’s been really disappointing to see what the reaction is. One, for council members to be saying that they somehow uncovered this … I wrote them a letter on July 11th that specifically talks about 2014,” explained Zimmer.
“We put it in a newsletter, it specifically talks about 2014 and the outrageous terms of the agreement. The presentation was sent out in July and it was given to the city council in early August … For political reasons, they’re hurting the vital interests of our city.”
In the July 11th letter addressed to the city council, Zimmer writes “our existing agreement makes the City responsible for paying for increases in bulk water costs under terms of the agreement that start in 2014, which to date total $5.2 million between 2014 and 2017.”
“If we were to continue under the current agreement, the City would be financially responsible for additional bulk water cost increases (approximately $1.3 million per year) through 2024 and any capital expenditures beyond the $350,000 required in the contract.”
Zimmer also called it “unfortunate” that both 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco and Council President Jen Giattino have called for an investigation into the liability, calling it “a completely political angle.”
“It’s really unfortunate that council members, instead of trying to solve this problem, they’re trying to attack what the proposes solution is. Those are really unfair accusations, it’s unfortunate, but I’ve always worked as hard as I could to represent the best interests of the people of Hoboken.”
Giattino has previously said that several questions brought up during subcommittee meeting were not answered, also noting that the city auditor was not made available for these meetings.
Zimmer responded by saying that the auditor was on vacation during the subcommittee meeting he was summoned for, indicating she preferred to have that conversation occur during an open session of the city council.
The mayor also clarified that the $8.35 million figure is just an estimate since Suez has never billed the city for those services.
“The reality is we don’t know exactly what the amount is. That’s part of the memorandum of understanding. They have not billed, it’s not billed of payable and it’s part of negotiations … basically that’s what it is, it’s part of the negotiations,” stated Zimmer.
“We’ve been involved in negotiations since 2015 and really working to resolve this.”
She also said it would be “outrageous” to remain in the current water deal any longer, since the city is being charged $1.3 million annually without putting any additional revenue towards capital improvements.
We also discussed what exactly the $10 million forgiveness aspect of the proposed deal means.
“Well it’s $5.2 [million] for excess bulk water costs from 2014 to 2017, or 2018, and that’s $1.8 million and they’re giving us three years going forward as benefit. It’s a $10 million dollar total benefit,” Zimmer said.
When asked if the new deal would potentially erase the approximate $8.5 million liability, she explained how the bulk water would ideally be paid for in the future.
“Well, we’re also phasing in so they’re trying to get us up to the actual costs of bulk water. So going forward, the ratepayers will be responsible for the excess costs of bulk water. So for a six-year period, it gets us up to a certain level and then the ratepayers will need to pay the water costs going forward.”
In closing, Zimmer also explained what it meant for the ratepayers to be responsible for the costs in the potential new agreement.
“This proposal will also make it fairer since it should be that the ratepayers are the ones that should be responsible for the system. Right now, that taxpayers are the [ones] largely responsible for the system,” she said.
“With this deal, we’re making the upgrades, and as far as the costs, the additional costs, it’s the ratepayers paying. So it shouldn’t be that a family of four is … they’re paying for their taxes more than what a car wash would pay for all of the water that they use.”
The proposed Suez agreement is not currently on the city council agenda for tomorrow, where the governing body meets at City Hall, 94 Washington St., at 7 p.m.