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Montville Sewer Rate Reduction May Be in Jeopardy

Town owes more to Parsippany waste water treatment plant than projected and municipal officials are unsure whether lowering rates in January will be feasible.

New technology at the Parsippany-Troy Hills Wastewater Treatment Plant has affected cost figures for what Montville Township owes to use the facility, causing township officials to second-guess whether the lower sewer rates promised to ratepayers beginning in January can be put into effect.

The 16 million-gallon-per-day plant, which underwent renovations this year, serves Parsippany-Troy Hills, Montville, East Hanover, Mountain Lakes and a portion of Denville. Those municipalities share the cost of sewer service, paying a percentage of the total cost to service the sewage that goes through the plant based on what each town uses.

As part of the plant renovations, temporary meters with more advanced technology have been installed and showed one of the municipalities, Parsippany, brought less sewage through the plant than originally anticipated by the older meters. As a result, the cost burden will be shifted to the other communities, as each town's percentage of use is higher than what was anticipated when municipal budgets were developed.

Township Commiteeman Scott Gallopo summarized the issue and how it will impact Montville at Tuesday's Montville Township Commitee meeting.

"[Parsippany Utility's] expenses, as a result of their plant upgrades, have dropped significantly. Our percentge of the volume has gone up," he said.

Now Montville Township's portion of the cost could go up significantly, Gallopo said. But he said it was not something committee members could have known about ahead of time.

"You can't predict a change in the measure from a new flow meter," he said. "Even  the treatment plant never saw that coming."

Montville Township Administrator Victor Canning also said the township was unaware of the potential for the increased costs, particularly not when the township committee agreed to issue lower rates beginning next year.

"We didn't know this was going to happen," Canning said Friday. "We went on as if, in our world, everything was fine."

In June, township officials voted to give ratepayers a sewer fee "holiday" through the end of this year to return about $4 million in surplus money that was generated over the past several years. The township's Long Term Financial Planning Committee (LTFPC) also recommended that the township adopt , which was approved by the township committee in June.

Canning told the township committee Tuesday the lower rates may not be enough for Montville to pay the treatment plant what is needed now that the township's percentage of the cost burden has increased. The difference, which Canning said would now have to be budgeted for, is between $350,000 and $400,000.

"This isn't anything the township committee, the administration, or the [LTFPC] is at fault for," Canning said. "We didn't know it was out there, we didn't know it was coming until we were told and then, unfortunately, it was too late."

Canning noted that Parsippany Mayor James Barberio has promised to help the municipalities with the issue.

"Mayor Barberio has been very accommodating. He understands the dilemma, he has never ever suggested that if this turns out to be a financial issue, he would turn a blind eye on it," Canning said.

At Tuesday's meeting, Montville Mayor Tim Braden said the township committee will have to take some more time to figure out if the lower rates can still be put in effect. He commended the work Committeeman Jim Sandham and other township officials have done looking into the issue and said it will be discussed at future meetings.

"We probably weren't paying our fair share in the past and now we will in the future," he said. "We were on a 'holiday' for quite a while."

jf October 17, 2012 at 04:34 PM
So Dave F, Dan and me have both jumped the gun with premature assessments of our committee and the lack of oversight. This isn't an isolated instance - it appears that much of the time they are reactive and not proactive. And it seems like we always have money for another park but not the things we really need.
Dave F October 17, 2012 at 05:05 PM
jf - You might have a better handle on some of these issues than I do, but I still don't see how they are "reactive" and not proactive. That's not the conclusion I reach when I attend the meetings and read the minutes/listen to the recordings, particularly on this sewer issue. They definitely blew the "we'll save $400,000 on positions" statements, but I think that came from one committee person and they should have corrected him publicly immediately. You are spot on regarding accountability. There is none, particularly inside town hall. This committee has done nothing to hold these individuals accountable for their mistakes, bad info, and lack of follow-through. Despite numerous complaints from some of the committee members, it's not clear to me why there is still a lack of accountability. Perhaps it is time for us to let them know how we feel at their next meeting.
jf October 17, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Dave F - no doubt you are better at attending meetings than I am and I think we would find a lot of people who would agree with us on the accountability issue. What I meant by being reactive vs. proactive - a proactive committee wouldn't be surprised on a routine basis because they would have done the due diligence on the front end to avoid being surprised by less than desirable end results. I'm a finance person and I just don't ever remember being surprised by the numbers, expenses, etc so much of the time - having a solid budget based on realistic and reasonable assumptions is a way to maintain a grasp on financial matters, monitor financial activity (actuals v. budget) and anticipate deviations while providing solutions to them in a timely fashion.
jf October 17, 2012 at 11:19 PM
But seriously, can someone tell me what the township CFO is supposed to be doing? Who is steering the ship?
Dan Grant October 18, 2012 at 12:36 PM
A review of what has happened shows the reactive nature of people who are not doing theirs jobs and I am not talking about the employees. In 2009 they raised rates because of what they claim was bad information, They began to accumulate a surplus but apparently were unaware of it until 2011 by which time they had a surplus of $4.8 million which is money taken from rate payers that they did not need to take. The surplus had grown over time and they should have seen that by the yearly audit which would have been seen growing every year. They could have lower the rates as soon as it was recognised. Instead they were suprised by it in 2011 and finally did something about it in 2012. What did they do? They gave a "vacation" to rate payers of less than half of the money, keeping the remaining $2.8 million. Now the rate reduction is being threatened by a higher bill from Parsippany and they are suprized by that. It doesn't speak well of a Township Committee that is on top of things.

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