City Council’s Thursday vote to increase water bills for Trenton residents and for customers living in Ewing, Hamilton, Hopewell, and Lawrence demonstrates just how badly the city government of Trenton is functioning.
A plethora of officials from Trenton’s suburban neighbors showed up at last night’s meeting. They first explained how they had been kept in the dark about this latest rate hike and last December’s vote to sell off Trenton Water Works infrastructure in their towns, and then implored City Council members to table the rate ordinance in favor of an in-depth discussion of the increases.
A divided City Council offered apologies to the suburban officials and the general public, and then voted 5 to 2 to pass an ordinance increasing water bills for all water customers by 40 percent.
“We have deliberated on this matter, however, this is the Trenton Water Works,” said Council President Paul Pintella, prior to initiating the roll-call vote that hands cash-strapped residents in Trenton and the suburbs dramatically increased water bills.
Interestingly enough, ordinance sponsor Councilman Milford Bethea actually voted against the measure. Perhaps he had a change of heart after thinking of his constituents, and listening to the passionate pleas of city residents, suburban residents, and suburban officials.
But five members of council – Jim Coston, Annette Lartigue, Gino Melone, Paul Pintella, and Cordelia Staton – voted in support of the measure, ensuring its passage.
Councilman Coston based his affirmative vote on testimony from administration officials who said that federal and state government had mandated the city undertake nearly $100 million in improvements on the water utility, without providing any funding. The work had gone ahead and the debt service needed to support those costs required the water rate hike, wrote Mr. Coston, which necessitated the increase and secured Mr. Coston’s vote.
In a normally functioning municipal government, such a sequence of events is the acceptable method of governing. Administration officials and department employees with knowledge of their departments testify to a body of legislators, which then bases deliberations and an eventual vote on the matter.
The problem with that sequence, as far as Trenton’s municipal government is concerned, is that officials from Mayor Douglas H. Palmer’s administration consistently spin information, bend it, warp it, and spread outright lies concerning municipal matters.
When damaging information becomes the subject of legislative requests, those requests are traditionally met with stonewalling, delaying actions, and other forms of obfuscation befitting of the Richard M. Nixon administration.
With that in mind, voting in support of this water rate increase on the basis of the testimony of administration officials who have long compromised their trustworthiness seems to be a nearly unsupportable action. Support could only have been based upon in-depth research, budget documents, or other nearly things impervious to the spin so frequently here in Trenton.
In this particular matter there seems to be plenty of data, or even simple commonsense, which paints the increase as unnecessary, accept as a move to simply add on to the bottom line of the Trenton Water Works, and the City of Trenton itself.
Over the past few years the water utility has generated millions of dollars in surplus, evident by the nearly $10 million that was transferred from the utility budget into the city’s general fund in a manner that continues to be questioned. A water utility generating such a massive surplus would seem to have little reason to required a water rate increase.
The water increase is needed because of around $100 million worth of mandatory improvements being made to the utility, according to testimony from Thursday’s meeting. But a 40 percent increase will generate somewhere in the neighborhood of an additional $10 to $12 million in revenue – an amount that could support, even with a poor credit rating garnering a 7 percent interest rate, somewhere around $250 to $350 million in bonds.
So the increase and associated revenue spike could likely support much more than the total cost of these improvements. The rate hike supporters have also apparently forgotten about the revenue that is already being generated by the water utility, which is apparently of such a magnitude that it has consistently generated millions of dollars in surplus in recent years.
A 40 percent rate hike is unnecessary, as experts like Mr. Howard Woods and others have pointed out in Board of Public Utilities testimony recently.
All of this information is publicly accessible and easily understood. Despite that, last night City Council members relied on information provided by openly dishonest administration officials, took it on face value, and voted accordingly.
A government like this fails to advance the interests of city residents. Change is needed.