Jersey City MUA approves 7% water & sewer rate hike after residents voice concerns


The Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA) approved a seven percent water and sewer rate hike after residents expressed concerns at yesterday’s public hearing and subsequent meeting.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

The public notice for the rate hearing indicated that the average customer using 5,236 gallons of water per month would see the water rate portion of their bill go from $33.25 to $35.58, with the sewer rate up to $49.07 from $45.85.

That makes for a difference of $5.55 per month and that was the best case scenario under the current set of circumstances, according to NW Financial Principal Dennis Enright.

“The revenues, the cost of operations and maintenance, reserve fees, insurance costs, replacing parts of the system as they age, and the cost of bonds and notes that vary as issued to capital projects,” Enright explained about the MUA rate study he conducted.

“The percentage is seven percent pretty much across the board, but for residential users that would equate to, for both water and sewer, about a $6 a month increase in cost.”

Maria Salamanca, a city resident for 43 years, said that the rate and tax increases over the past seven years have been “crazy” for homeowners, who cannot afford to pay what they used to pay every quarter on a monthly basis now.

“Do we really need to give the seven percent increase on us, the residents? Lower class and middle class families, which I don’t think exist any more – which I don’t think exist anymore, I think it’s either low income or high income – why so much, why the increase, why is it coming from us?”

She also said a 3 p.m. start time for the hearing was unacceptable and that $6 was a lot of money for a lot of working class families.

Enright responded that businesses and corporations have to pay the same amount as residents, as well as that the increase was largely driven by complying with federal orders that are required by agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Maria Ross, a 35-year Jersey City resident, noted that other urban New Jersey cities like Newark, Clifton, and Paterson have performed endeavors such as lead line replacements that did not cost the taxpayers anything, questioning why Jersey City couldn’t do the same.

Newark and Jersey City both received grants to perform federally mandated lead line replacements, but he noted that Newark residents still faced a water rate hike this year, Enright stated, as well as that any reporting to the contrary was incorrect.

Charlene Burke, a former Hudson County grant analyst, was critical that the autonomous agency had not applied for more grants, as well as that the rate study Enright performed was not available online prior to the meeting.

Enright said that the study project five years, with a 7 percent rate hike for this year, and five percent for the subsequent four years.

Jersey City MUA Executive Director Jose Cunha provided further details on the lead line replacement project, which had an over $1 billion price tag over the course of a decade when it was announced in January 2022.

“No direct resident or owner of every property where lead services are being replaced are being assessed any of that money directly. And same thing in Newark, that is correct, and possibly same thing in Clifton,” he began.

“However, somebody’s gotta pay for it and the grants have not been released in their entirety, anything more than what the [New Jersey infrastructure] ibank is including … [such] as the $5 million principal forgiveness for drinking water and as the discounted rates.”

He continued that the federal government loans $100 million to the state at zero percent interest per year, which allows agencies to get the lowest possible interest rates.

Sunday Milona asked if the public notice for the meeting was online, since many residents like herself are not picking up newspapers to search for legal notices.

Jennifer Credidio, a member of McManimon, Scotland & Baumann, LLC and outside counsel for the MUA who ran the meeting, said that legal requirements in New Jersey mandate that the notices are sent to two newspapers and the municipal clerks where the notice is relevant.

John Ross, Maria’s husband, called the proposed and projected rate hikes “outrageous,” particularly since there was an increase when billing switched from monthly to quarterly.

Cunha said that wasn’t supposed to happen and asked anyone in attendance to leave their contact information so they could look into fixing it.

Ross also complained about the lack of professionalism of MUA contractor Spinello Companies, Inc., who routinely ignore residents concerns and have created unsafe situations in certain instances.

Morris Canal Community Development Corporation Executive Director June Jones, who has lived here for 68 years, echoed that sentiment, to which Cunha apologized and said they are now doing projects in phases in hopes of hiring various new contractors to avoid problems like this.

Ward F Councilman Frank “Educational” Gilmore wanted to know how the MUA could give the city $50 million as part of a new, 40-year franchise agreement that was approved in December (after the state expressed trepidation in October) and then approve a rate hike.

“Them [the city] adding that into their five-year budget plan, they are required to increase taxes, under their five year-plan it would be two percent a year, that all made their budget work. Without that, the city taxes would’ve had to go up higher,” Enright stated.

“There’s the problem in a nutshell, right? We’re all in a room and it’s like ‘whose gonna be the bad guy?’ You gonna raise it from the school standpoint, the taxes gonna get risen from a municipal budget … or you kinda say ‘you know what MUA, it’s on you guys to take one for the team.”

Gilmore continued that his constituents are typically low-income families that live paycheck to paycheck (as he does as well) and $6 a month is very significant to them, therefore this rate increase will have dire consequences.

“Every day people feel this pain. I assure you, and I hate to even say this, that at the end of the year, people are gonna have water liens placed on their house because of this increase … Every day folks being penalized for this political gamesmanship that’s going on.”

Another resident, Jose Marte, repeated over and over that this was “unfair” and residents are never given any consideration before the government “puts their hands into their pockets.”

After the hearing concluded, a brief recess was taken before the board of directors meeting was called and the water and sewer rate increases passed 4-0 after about two-and-a-half hours.

Board Chair Maureen Hulings, Vice Chairperson Jeannine Zampella, Commissioner Lenore Brown, and Commissioner Kathleen Hartye voted yes. Commissioners David Moore, Ana Soto, and Maureen Nally were absent.

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