Jersey City Councilmen James Solomon and Rolando Lavarro hosted a press conference this afternoon calling for a full refund and repeal of the municipal utilities authority’s waste disposal fees.
On July 24th, Mayor Steven Fulop announced that the fee would be suspended since some residents had been overcharged and now some are asking for this the matter to be remedied a step further.
“Correlating water with garbage just did not compute. I created a petition to rescind this new backdoor tax and it quickly became clear to me that 95 percent of the hundreds of residents who signed this petition were unaware of this new garbage tax in the new water bill. The lack of transparency was transparent,” explained longtime resident Meera Jaffrey.
Three business owners also spoke, explaining how the MUA’s water disposal fee, which their board approved back in September and went into effect in January, made their lives more difficult.
“Since my business can only operate on very large amounts of water usage, this formula is unfair. The first quarter this charge was imposed, it raised my water bill by $956, or almost 25 percent higher than my average bill before,” said Teresa Cupo, the owner of Tessie’s Soap Box, a laundromat in the Heights.
She added that the tax led her to raise her prices for the first time in the past decade.
Cupo and others noted that hiring a private garbage collection company could resolve the issue, but making that transition wasn’t always easy.
Councilman-at-Large Rolando Lavarro, a chief political adversary of the mayor, blistered Fulop on several occasions over the way he handled the situation.
“This has been pure deception, plain and simple. They say this tax was going to require tax-abated buildings from paying their fair share, as Ms. Jaffrey pointed out. But as was reported in the media, 83 properties across the city opted out of the water tax with at least two of them that we know of right now being tax-abated, Downtown high rises,” he stated.
” … And now what do we hear? We hear more lies. ‘The MUA and Suez mad a mistake. There was an agreement to charge less to the taxpayers.’ So I stand here disgusted by the Fulop water tax and the political gamesmanship.”
Lavarro also mocked Fulop for defending the MUA fee on the pilot episode of Hudson Media Group’s “Meeting with the Mayor” program on July 21st before halting it three days later.
As for Solomon, who had called for the tax to be repealed and refunded via American Rescue Plan dollars earlier this year, he repeated that sentiment several times during his remarks.
“We wouldn’t be here if this tax had been imposed with transparency and that is a core piece of what we need to call for in the future as well. This was done in the fall – there was no public debate,” he said, continuing that doing this “behind closed doors” means residents are still just hearing about it now.
” … If this had gone before the city council, if this had been debated, we would have had a robust conversation, we would have been able to do the math and determine whether this was a good policy or not.”
He also pointed out that he wore an Andrew Yang-style “Math” hat to the presser to remind everyone that his office had looked at the numbers prior to the fee being implemented and determined it would hurt working class residents the most.
Furthermore, Solomon and Lavarro plan to sponsor a non-binding resolution calling on the MUA to refund and repeal the tax at their August 18th city council meeting.
City spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione brushed the press conference off as political shenanigans and did not answer whether or not the administration would call on the MUA to take further action.
“It’s the political season and we will see more press conferences like this one from politicians like Lavarro and Solomon trying to get attention,” she wrote in an email.
“In any event, Mayor Fulop already called for the halt on the fee and the MUA not only agreed but clearly stated that anyone who overpaid would be fully credited. This credit is in addition to a budget approval this week that will result in a reduction in property taxes for all Jersey City property owners.”
While they did not participate in the program, council challengers Joel Brooks, Kevin Bing, Danielle Freire, Frank Gilmore, Chris Gadsden, Elvin Dominici, and June Jones attended to show their support to the cause.
“I’m happy to be here today in solidarity with JC Heights residents and small business owners to demand we refund and repeal the water tax. Look who isn’t here. This is what happens when you have rubber stampers in place of real independent representation,” Freire told HCV after the event.