After an hour of turmoil, with new Board Chairman Brian Kappock at the helm, the North Hudson Sewerage Authority approved a $51 million budget that comes with a 4.5 percent water rate increase.
After Kappock was named chairman by a vote of 7-0-2, with Kappock and West New York Mayor Felix Roque – who called into the meeting from Chicago – abstaining, Union City’s Libero Marotta was voted in as vice chair unanimously (9-0).
Kappock succeeds longtime NHSA Commissioner Frank Raia as chairman, who was replaced by Kurt Gardiner in what turned out to be a contentious issue in front of the Hoboken City Council last month.
Everything was then going smoothly until it was time to vote on a 4.5% water rate increase that would impact Hoboken, Union City, Weehawken and West New York residents.
Union City Commissioners Marotta and Alex Velasquez, as well as Roque, voted no, leading to a 6-3 tally.
However, since the increase is necessary for the $51 million budget to pass, it must receive a majority vote of at least 7-2 to pass.
NHSA Executive Director Dr. Richard Wolff explained that in order for there to be no increase, the budget would have to be cut by $3 million, forcing improvement projects to be scaled back or cancelled entirely.
Hoboken Commissioner Tony Soares sympathized with the fact that NHSA customers have a lot of other bills to worry about, but still stressed that the NHSA has a lean budget that doesn’t have much room for additional cuts.
Speaking to Roque, Kappock explained that changing the water rate increase would require approval from the State Department of Environmental Protection.
Therefore, if the current rate was not approved by the conclusion of Thursday night’s meeting, the water bills could not be sent out with a new rate and the authority would lose a substantial amount of revenue during the first quarter of 2016.
Wolff then tried to appeal to the commissioners who voted no by explaining that with the help of North Hudson Sewerage Authority Rate Advisor Ed Marcus, a new affordability program for low-income families is almost ready for introduction at the board.
After the lengthy discussion concluded, Roque changed his vote and the rate increase measure passed by a vote of 7-2.
Velasquez and Marotta stuck to their no votes, with Velasquez reading a letter into the record from Union City Mayor/state Senator Brian Stack (D-33) opposing the increase (Velasquez works as an aide to Stack in the mayor’s office).
Afterwards, Kappock spoke to us about why rate increases are commonplace and necessary at the sewerage authority.
Kappock also said that the board did not immediately have figures available for how much of an impact the rate increase would have per household.