2014-01-23 / Front Page

Old Bridge MUA approves water, sewer rate increases

By THOMAS CASTLES
Staff Writer

OLD BRIDGE — Water and sewer rates are going up for township ratepayers, but the Old Bridge Municipal Utilities Authority (OBMUA), the entity that provides water and sewer services in town, is not taking the blame.

“This is a pass-along charge from the Middlesex County Utilities Authority,” said OBMUA Commissioner and Township Councilman Reggie Butler.

“I want to make it clear that this is not the OBMUA that is passing this rate along to ratepayers,” Butler said at a Jan. 15 public rate hearing held at town hall.

The Middlesex County Utilities Authority could not be reached for comment.

According to OBMUA Comptroller Stephen Florek, the current minimum sewer charge per home of $133.49 per quarter climbed to $136.92, a $3.43 increase in fees per quarter, $1.14 increase per month and an overall increase of 2.57 percent.

The minimum combined bill per home for water and sewer of $202.86 per quarter rose by $3.43, or 1.6 percent, to $206.29 per quarter.

While the MUA commissioners said that the rate increases came at the behest of the Middlesex County Utilities Authority and Middlesex Water Company — two entities the OBMUA depends on for sewer treatment and water supply, respectively — commissioners Butler, Anita Greenberg, Guy Donatelli and Arthur Haney all voted in favor of the increase after hearing testimony from Florek and engineer Michael Roy, who suggested it was a necessary passalong.

“Middlesex Water Company is a private, for-profit company. They’re regulated by the BPU [Board of Public Utilities], so whenever they do improvements or their costs increase, and they are justifiable as far as the BPU is concerned, they raise their rates,” Florek said.

The Middlesex County Utilities Authority raises rates, he added, when the cost of treating the OBMUA’s wastewater increases.

“No one likes to see a rate increase, but this is the reality of the world we are living in right now,” Greenberg said. “Money doesn’t mean what it used to mean. … We have to do what’s best for the taxpayer and for the stability of the MUA.”

It is the responsibility of organizations like the OBMUA to focus their efforts on checking the power of the Middlesex County Utilities Authority and Middlesex Water Company, Haney said.

“The [OBMUA] has in no way ever taken lightly cost increases, whether they be 2 or 3 cents a day or $5 or $10 a day. We take everything just as seriously and put in the effort necessary to try and control and stabilize those costs,” he said. “We don’t stand by and accept what they say the increase needs to be; we fight it and we’ve been successful every time in reducing their increase. That doesn’t mean we get no in- crease, which is what we’d like to see, … but we manage the increase we do get.”

Councilman Brian Cahill, who attended the meeting as a member of the public, asked if surplus OBMUA funds could be used to absorb rate increases.

“If we had sufficient funds, we could use those funds to cover the increases, but only for sewer flow charges and not for connection fees,” Florek said.

Connection fees are incurred when a new building connects to the OBMUA water distribution and wastewater treatment network.

As its finances stand, Florek said, the OBMUA does not have the funds to offset the cost and must pass it along to ratepayers.

“We would like to see no increases, but we do manage to get control over it because of the active support we have from our commissioners and professional staff. We ensure we do the best we can to provide the most critical services to the public, which are a safe and consistent supply of water and the effective and efficient removal of wastewater,” Haney said.

“The public should understand that we are here, we take this seriously and we will continue our efforts to control costs.”

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