Proposals to raise the sewer assessment $65, or 35 percent, to cover increasing costs and to settle the town’s part in a huge pollution remediation lawsuit headline the agenda of the March 19, 2013, town council meeting.
The meeting agendas and related materials are here.
The administration is asking the council to approve changing the sewer ordinance to raise the sewer fee to $250 from $185, citing increasing costs to maintain the service and infrastructure. The new fee, which would take effect in 2013, was last changed in 2006. Public comment is allowed at the meeting during consideration of the proposal.
The town chief financial officer provided the council with data showing that the sewer system is projected to cost $5.63 million, including a $2.66 million fee assessed by the Joint Meeting sewer authority that processes the town’s sewage. In 2006, the sewer system cost $4.63 million, including a $2.13 million fee assessed by Joint Meeting.
By my calculations, the data show that total annual costs have risen 2.8 percent compounded annually over the seven years – including just under 3.2 percent for Joint Meeting’s fee and 2.5 percent for town costs. While those numbers almost certainly exceed the inflation rate and require us to keep a close eye on the underlying expenditures, they are not necessarily excessive on their face.
The $185 fee would raise $3.74 million, or 66.5% of the cost this year. The $250 fee would raise $5.06 million, or 89.9% of the cost. The administration has had a practice of not adjusting the fee annual to reflect annual costs. The proposed ordinance is here.
The council will consider the proposed consent settlement of the huge and expensive Passaic River pollution lawsuit that’s pulled many New Jersey municipalities, including West Orange, into what’s known as the Occidental Chemical litigation. For more information, please see a recent Star-Ledger story.
The state, which is the plaintiff in the litigation, has required municipalities to sign confidentiality agreements as part of the negotiations of the proposed settlement. The council is asked to approve the proposed settlement based on discussions in executive session, as at the last council meeting. The state plans to make the settlement public before the council would consider and approve the related settlement payment. I’m not a fan of confidentiality in general when it comes to local government, but I believe in this situation it’s warranted given the eventual disclosure of the settlement and the council’s discussion of the related financial contribution.
The agenda also includes:
- A resolution indicating that the township’s total projected tax levy in 2012 of $201.9 million was reduced by $935,321 of tax appeals, which suggests the fourth consecutive year the town’s tax base has declined. The approved resolution would allow a calculation of the reserve for uncollected taxes based on the lower post-tax-appeal levy.
- Introduction of the township’s preliminary 2013 budget, which would raise the municipal property tax by 1.8 percent. The public hearing on the budget is scheduled for April 23. The proposed budget summary is here (on the budget page with related materials).
- An administration request for review and approval of revised licensing agreements for operation of the town-owned Oskar Schindler Performing Arts Center. The council expressed concern at aspects of the previous agreement when it was presented for review several months ago.
- A proposed renewal of the inter-local agreement with the Borough of Roseland for animal services through mid-2014 that will bring a projected $22,336 of revenue to the town, not including the related expenses for the service.
- A resolution authorizing an executive session to discuss a matter of litigation.
- An ordinance authorizing two paid positions and pay is also up for second and final approval. The ordinance would authorize a coordinator for Council on Affordable Housing work at a maximum pay of $2,500 and coordinator for the Municipal Alliance, for $3,125. The proposed ordinance is here.
I’m a West Orange Township councilman since 2010 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. A former financial journalist, I am a business communications consultant in my spare time.