Jersey City Council grills MUA official over ‘nightmare’ solid waste fee refund situation


The Jersey City Council grilled a Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA) official at last night’s caucus over a “nightmare” solid waste fee refund situation.

By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View

In July, Mayor Steven Fulop called on Suez Water and the MUA to halt their solid waste disposal fees in July, though the council indicated the situation is far from resolved.

“Do we know what the status is on the refunds for Suez? People were told not to pay that line item on the bill and it continues to be on the bill,” asked Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh.

“That is a solid waste [fee],” replied Jersey City MUA Finance Director John Folk.

“It’s still on my bill and if it’s on my bill, it’s still on everyone’s bill,” Saleh answered.

While Folk said there is “a formula and a method” calculated based on water usage, several other council members pointed out that the city announced a new solid waste fee plan in December, effectively to repeal the wildly unpopular “water tax.”

“John, we know it’s calculated wrong. We’re all clear on that. They were told they were going to get a rebate or something like that. Explain to the public what happened there,” asserted Council President Joyce Watterman.

“The bill we were told not to pay, it was based on the formula and it continues to carry over,” Saleh added.

Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey also expressed her displeasure with the situation.

“Essentially what is happening is each person is coming to different issues with either reimbursement or new payment structure. When we call Suez we’re told one thing. When we call MUA, we’re told another thing and then everybody blames everybody else,” she explained.

“We need clarity once and for all. Who is responsible for paying from that six-month period? Some are told they get no refunds. Some are told they get big refunds. It’s a nightmare and a headache. It’s a disgrace.”

Folk said that while some refunds have been issued, they are not guaranteed and depend what each household paid in 2021.

“The MUA is paying for solid waste pickups in our budget. We need to finance that. In regards to if you get a refund or not is that for 2021, every household is being charged $150. So if in 2021, you paid $200, you will get $50 credit,” Folk said.

Still, that explanation was not enough to satisfy everyone sitting on the dais.

“So that’s the sum? Because that charge I think was across three or four wards. So let’s say I was charged $300 across three quarters. So I would get that 150 back?,” Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley asked.

“That is correct for a single-family home. A lot of homes are two families. So that is per family. If you have a three-family, you’re at $450,” Folk said.

“What if you have a two-family and you don’t have anybody occupying the second floor?” Prinz-Arey asked.

“You’re still charged for the second apartment,” Folk replied.

Prinz-Arey said that they should seriously consider a community outreach program that spells all of these details out.

“I think you guys might want to do an infographic and make it very simple and include it not only in everyone’s bill but also on your social media and multiple papers. And make it in multiple languages,” she added.

“We’re just trying to get answers because a lot of people have been asking,” Watterman chimed in.

Folk continued that for this year, the rate would be $12.50 a month for a single-family home, which comes out to $150 a year.

“The contract that MUA is assuming, is it $5 million a year?” Saleh asked.

“The 12.50, when we first did the calculation, we didn’t know how many units were in the city to hang our hat on. So now we went out and we had our finance people, we calculated all the units in the city, took the total bill, divided it by the total units: it comes out to $150 a year,” Folk said.

Watterman and Prinz-Arey inquired further, asking what would happen if someone had a leak, in some cases leading to bills upwards of $1,000.

“If you had a leak, you had a loss. That’s why people are getting a refund,” Folk responded.

“People are confused. Clarify it, work with it through, and present it with how we’re going to get through it,” added Ward E Councilman James Solomon, who along with former Councilman-at-Large Rolando Lavarro called for the repeal and refund of the water tax.

Watterman also suggested that they should put the information on the MUA website and mail an informational pamphlet to people’s homes.

“Make sure you say what you said here. Everybody’s watching this,” added Councilman-at-Large Daniel Rivera.

“Especially since this is what we’re going to repeat. They contact us all the time,” said Ridley.

Folk replied that rolling bills have made the matter complicated, indicating that a new bill will simplify utility payments.

Additionally, Ward F Councilman Frank “Educational” Gilmore said that they need to make sure people get their money and also asked on the status of bringing trash and recycling services in-house. The council first proposed a third-party audit in September.

Business Administrator John Metro said they have a group working on bringing garbage pick up in-house, noting the contract with Regional Industries expires in November.

“Every day of every week that I have been a councilman, I get tagged on Facebook and Instagram with trash all over the Heights and it’s a disgrace and we need to act on it,” Saleh stated.

“ … Regional needs to come before this council and explain everything that they’re doing. Doing our city, they have no respect for it. So they need to answer for it.”

Watterman noted that everyone is frustrated, but they were the only bidder when the $77.5 million waste removal contract was approved in August 2020.

In other news, City Planner Matt Ward presented changes to the Morris Canal  redevelopment plan requested by the developers. According to the local redevelopment law, the council can redirect the planning board to study these requests he noted.

“What are the amendments?,” Gilmore asked.

Ward explained that developers of certain properties were requesting changes that were in conformity with the city’s Master Plan.

“Doesn’t the IZO (Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance) affect any new projects?,” Gilmore asked.

“Not necessarily, no,” Ward replied.

Another ordinance regarding the Morris Canal Manor project, scheduled for second reading  on Wednesday after it was tabled earlier this month, was removed from the agenda.

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