Righting Water Wrongs
The Booker Administration is again trying to put over on the unwilling citizens of Newark a Municipal Utility Authority (MUA, which I think is said as separate letters, M-U-A). Almost two years ago we fought that madness to defeat, but Booker won't take NO(!) for an answer. Sometimes mayoral power turns men mad. Witness NYC's sad little man, Michael Bloomberg, who defied TWO referendums that imposed a two-term limit for mayor, and got the City Council to overrule the people to permit him to run for a third term. I imagine that when his third term is up, he will have the City Council allow him a fourth term — then a fifth, sixth, fourteenth! Here in Newark, Cory Booker won't get rid of the large number of hugely overpaid Deputy Mayors and such at the top of his administration, nor impose a residency requirement upon City employees so they spend their paychecks within City Limits, and thus boost business taxes. Nor seek a City income tax. Nor any other sensible measure. No, he'd rather steal our water system and turn it over to private control, with no oversight by the "Municipal" (City) Council to keep water rates from skyrocketing to support hugely overpaid functionaries in a quasi-private entity over which the people will have no control. So we have to fite again. A few weeks ago, the Newark Water Group ("NWG") issued this flyer.
NWG says, in part:
Mayor Booker wants to borrow money guaranteed by our water bills only to balance his short-term budget resulting in sky-high water bills for the next 25 years. That is foolish. Balancing his budget on the backs of low and fixed income people who must have water is unjust. * * *
Mayor Booker tried to do-away with Newark’s Water/Sewer Dept and The Newark Watershed Conservation Development Corp to an outside Municipal Utility Authority (MUA). Newark Residents turned out in large numbers and stopped the plan. Now, the city administration is at it again. They are planning to turn our water over to a MUA run by political insiders. This MUA would be at the expense of Newark Residents:
■ The water and sewer system and watershed property will not be accountable to the voters of Newark.
■ Set up a completely new, expensive layer of bureaucracy to run the authority.
■ Provide for speedy contracts to outside corporations—with much less oversight, with huge potential for sweet-heart deals[.]
■ Hire whom they wanted, from anywhere.
■ Hire more lawyers and public relations people to “sell” us on water-rate increases.
■ Hand over the lion’s share of the profits o[f] our Water System to outside bondholders. * * *
An MUA would not do anything that the City Water Department could not do. This plan is an insult to all of our neighbors who get up every[ ]day and do the best they can working for the City of Newark to run the Department of Water and Sewer. City Water-Sewer workers are trying, yet, they STILL lack a full-time, permanent Director. We want effective management of our Water Department[,] full-time water-sewer professionals ... to make the Newark Water and Sewer Department into a top[-]notch agency. * * *
The residents of Newark deserve better ... If the department lags behind, hire a
water[-]management professional to ... run the ... Department ... as a state-of-the-art facility serving the people of Newark.
We [must] hire people immediately to tap every source of federal funds that could be coming to the City of Newark right now to upgrade and maintain our Water-Sewer infrastructure. Save the Newark Water and Sewer Department [—] No MUA.Funny Business with Billing? Bill Chappel has set out the macro problem. There may, however, be micro problems with water and sewer billing for some Newarkers. I just spent almost three months trying to rectify massive overbilling. Was this an innocent error on the City's part, or an attempt to squeeze out undeserved lucre thru fictitious billing? If the latter, it was incredibly clumsy. If my bill had gone up by 10% or even 20%, I might not have realized I was being overcharged. That's not what happened.
THE NEWARK WATER GROUP STATEMENT OF PURPOSE
The Newark Water Group is a nonpartisan group of Newark residents committed to keeping the city's water and sewer system and watershed property in direct control of our elected officials and accountable to the voters of Newark. ... We advocate for the best-managed water department in the United States and for the employment of Newark residents.
For more info: Newark Water Group: 973-973-623-6490. Email: bchappel1 AT verizon.net [Emfasis in original.]
On February 2d, I sent a letter to point out the problem:
Re: Crazy recent billsCity agencies do not publicize email addresses, so I had to send postal mail.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Something has gone very wrong with my water and sewer bills in the last three months. They have gone from about $30 a month to $150 or $160 a month! This cannot be correct. I am one person, and have always had only one person living in this house, so have had no recent change in water use. I conserve water. I know of no leak of consequence, and when I have gone into my basement to listen for running water, I have heard nothing. So what has happened?
Did you change my properly working meter for one that is defective? Was a new meter installed incorrectly, as created a leak between the meter and my house, such that water is leaking into the ground outside my house, that I am not using?
I cannot and will not pay preposterous water and sewer bills that are 5 or 6 TIMES what I have been billed for since I bought my house in June 2000. Please advise as to what is going on and how it can be fixed. Thank you.
While I waited for a reply, I arranged, as had recently been mandated, to have an MXU installed to ease the reading of my meter. "MXU" is not an abbreviation you could guess from the letters.
Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) equipment has now been installed to read nearly all of our customers’ accounts. The AMR technology is designed to collect water meter readings in a reliable and cost effective manner using a radio signal interface device called a Meter Transceiver Unit (MXU). This MXU is connected to your water meter and is activated by either a hand held device or a vehicle-transported unit. With the latter,[Water Dept] employees are able to drive past a property, send out a radio signal to the MXU, and receive back your meter reading directly to the computer in the vehicle. This enables the [Water Dept] to read meters much faster and without stopping at each customer’s property. It is more convenient for our customers because [Water Dept] employees do not have to enter customer homes or businesses to obtain a meter reading. Upon returning to the office, the information is downloaded for billing purposes. If for some reason a meter cannot be read, the estimated water usage bill will be generated using the best available historical records. In this case, all necessary billing adjustments will be made after an actual meter reading [I have supplied all the emfasis in this paragraf.]I foned the Water Department when I got yet another crazy bill. It turns out that the bills I had been receiving were "estimated", but not on the basis of the 11-year historical record of my water usage. They just plucked numbers from the clear blue sky. When the installer took a reading from the MXU immediately upon completing the installation, it read 1180. When I looked at my bills, I found a figure like 1250. I don't know if that is hundreds of cubic feet, or some other measure, but in any case, I was right. The "estimates" were wildly high, and bore no relation to my historical usage. Despite that actual meter reading, the Water Department was still sending me "estimated" bills.
Perhaps they thought my meter was broken because I was using very little water for several months, because last winter, when we had one nite that the temperature went down to about 0 degrees, both the hot- and cold-water pipes to the kitchen burst. (I think my kitchen was once a porch, because the basement doesn't extend under it, so the pipes were exposed to outside air in a low space under the kitchen connected to but not insulated by the basement.) Until I could get those pipes fixed, I had to keep the water to the entire house turned off during most hours of most days. Much later, my friend Joe from Belleville came by and capped the two pipes deep within the basement so I could turn water on to the rest of the house full-time. (He had apprenticed to a plumber in his youth.) I watched the procedure, and tho I could probably do it myself if I had the equipment and inclination, I had neither. So for months I was using almost no water except from a bunch of empty milk jugs that I would fill every couple of days. The Water Department may have felt that the starkly subnormal deviation from my historical usage indicated a broken meter. But why would they then turn around to vastly overcompensate, and "estimate" usage starkly over my historical usage?
Three weeks after my letter I got this slitely snotty letter back, which made it sound as tho I had done something wrong and was trying to cheat the City.
The man who came out to check my meter March 6th took another MXU reading: 1181. So I was still not using much water, because I conserve water in general, and there's only one person in my household. He told me not to pay the "estimated" bill but to wait for a bill based on the actual reading. So I didn't.
A couple of weeks later, in late March, however, I again got an "estimated" bill; the total of these crazy estimates was up to $697.26(!); and a note on the bill ominously said my service could be cut off without futher notice.
So I foned the meter department, which said that I had to speak to the billing department, where an unpleasant woman with a thick West Indian or African accent said there is a note on the account to follow up in April on the two actual MXU readings, and if I didn't want to risk having my water turned off, I should pay the nearly $700! When I protested that I cannot and will not pay fabricated bills, she hung up on me. And that is one of the people whose jobs I and other people active in the anti-MUA movement are trying to save.
Last Friday, April 27th, I finally got a corrected bill, which showed an actual reading of 1182, and a credit of $376.53.
Today, a mere three days later, a notice was placed on my porch saying that my water will be shut off in 3 days if I don't contact the Department to arrange to pay my bill! So now I have to see if they will accept a payment arrangement, since I can't afford to pay $330.40 for the entire period when the bill was in dispute.
If your water/sewer bill — and why is the "Passaic Valley" (sewage treatment?) portion always higher than the water portion? — has been oddly higher than historically, you too might want to check for crazy "estimates" and fite for a corrected bill based on actual readings.