Organized labor issues divide Wanaque, New Jersey
Wednesday, April 19, 2000

By JAN BARRY
Staff Writer
WANAQUE -- A disagreement over a cost-saving plan has escalated into a battle royal among borough officials.
At issue is a proposal to transfer the borough Sewerage Authority's two maintenance workers to the Wanaque Valley Regional Sewerage Authority to fill staff openings there. The regional plant serves only Wanaque, with Ringwood and West Milford having opted out of a regionalized wastewater treatment arrangement.
Despite the prospect of reducing salary expenses by having the two workers perform maintenance for both agencies, the local Sewerage Authority rejected the idea in a 3-2 vote last month. The split vote was influenced by protests by workers at both authorities over personnel issues such as seniority.
The sewerage agency's action infuriated Councilman Michael McNeila, who convinced the full council to vote last week to demand the resignations of the local authority's commissioners. McNeila wants council members appointed to the five-member board that oversees the maintenance and billing of residents for use of borough sewerage pipes, which deliver effluent to the regional treatment plant off Highland Avenue.
McNeila argued that combining the local and regional sewer utility jobs could save $90,000 per year in salaries and benefits. Residents have long chafed at the $800-per-year sewer fees per household, most of which goes to pay bond debts incurred to build the regional treatment plant.
"We cannot sit by and watch taxpayers' money wasted," McNeila said in a statement. "It is our responsibility and duty to take action."
The council vote raised hackles among the five-member authority, whose commissioners are appointed by Mayor Warren Hagstrom and the council.
An immediate response was shouted from the audience.
"You should be trying to get rid of the regional sewer board," urged John DiMeglio, a member of the borough Sewerage Authority.
In a telephone interview after the council meeting, authority Chairman Andrew Bolduc also rejected the resignation demand.
Bolduc released a previous letter to Hagstrom in which he accused McNeila of using "threats and strong-arm tactics in an effort to influence the decisions of this authority."
In his letter, Bolduc noted: "Although I was in the minority opinion after the [3-2] vote, and disagreed with the majority, I did not take it upon myself to chastise or berate those who voted differently."
Bolduc said he agreed with the cost-saving proposal, but resented pressure from council members.
"Mr. McNeila is a misguided missile," Bolduc said.
Mayor Hagstrom, who favors the transfer plan, said he tried brokering an agreement. But a key commissioner, Joseph Longo, broke a promise to vote for it, Hagstrom said.
Longo said he changed his mind as events unfolded.
"I would gladly be for it," Longo said Monday. "But you can't take all their benefits from the men. One had 21 years -- they wanted to take away all of his seniority [and] two weeks of his vacation. The other has been here for 12 years."
That work experience also posed a problem because it would give the local workers seniority over regional colleagues, Longo said.
"The workers over there were going to go on strike. They didn't want these men to be over them," he said.
Longo said representatives of the two sewerage authorities held discussions on the matter for six months. In the end, he said, he felt the negatives outweighed the positives.
Copyright 2000 Bergen Record Corp.