Water Industry News

Edison, NJ eyeing 57 percent sewer-bill hike

Home News Tribune Online 02/24/06

By Jerry Barca

EDISON Township residents are facing yet another hit to the wallet with a possible increase in sewer utility bills.

The Township Council proposed a 57 percent increase to the sewer-utility rate in an ordinance introduced last night.

The increase would fund repairs in the sewer system, most of which was installed between 1947 and mid-1950s. The utility is headed for a deficit without the increase, officials said.

"That's going to save us money down the line," said Councilman Sal Pizzi. "The responsible thing to do is work on projects instead of emergencies."

While it is a 57 percent increase, the rate would still be less than a quarter of a penny per gallon of water consumed. The increase, if adopted, will not pertain to residents who were 65 years or older by the end of last year.

The rise would be the first jump in Edison's sewer utility rate since 1996.

The average annual township sewer utility bill which is based on 96,000 gallons of water use will jump from $143.62 to $225, said David Donnelly, spokesman for Mayor Jun Choi.

But even at $225 a year, Donnelly said, the cost of using the township's sewer utility is less than most Middlesex County municipalities.

Choi campaigned as a reformer and promised to reduce or stabilize taxes, but with less than two months in office he is asking for more money from residents who were hit with a municipal tax-rate increase of 11 cents per $100 of valuation when the current budget was adopted in December.

Earlier this week, an independent audit of the township's budget predicted another tax increase with the next budget.

"While this is unfortunate and something we did not want to do, in order to stabilize the sewer utility this increase is necessary," Donnelly said, speaking for Choi who was unavailable for comment. "This administration needs to stabilize the sewer utility rate so if we are pressed with an emergency we do not have to go back to the taxpayers for a further increase."

Donnelly said a pipe break on Inman Avenue last month rippled into 800 feet of collapsed sewer line and has cost the township at least $145,000 to rebuild that part of the system.

Without the increase, the township's Chief Financial Officer Ross Bobal predicts the sewer utility will face $220,000 deficit by June 30, the end of the current fiscal year, Donnelly said.

If adopted, the increase will create a $500,000 sewer utility surplus by June 30, Donnelly said.

Last year's budget makers the previous administration and the Township Council used $1.6 million in sewer-utility surplus to fund other parts of the spending plan.

Councilwoman Antonia Ricigliano said the increase is necessary, but she has concerns about how the the surplus will be used.

"If (the surplus is) not dedicated, I'm worried it might be frittered away," Ricigliano said.

Joe Petrucelli, a certified public accountant who has worked closely with the township budget, said he wants excess funds earmarked for the sewer utility.

"If there's any place in the township that needs to be addressed, it's the sewer," he said.

The proposed law does not mandate the surplus be used solely for the sewer utility and Councilman Peter Barnes III is OK with that.

"I take their (the administration's) word for it. I'm not going to quibble with them," Barnes said. "If he (Choi) says we need it, then we need it."