Hamilton Township Council took a bold step Tuesday night in rejecting the planned sale of outlying Trenton Water Works infrastructure to New Jersey American Water Co., through a unanimous five-member vote.
The implications of the action remain unclear.
It does appear that Tuesday’s vote will slow down approval of the sale, which delivers water pipes and 40,000 Trenton Water Works customers in Ewing, Hamilton, Hopewell, and Lawrence to a foreign-owned water company for $80 million.
Governing bodies in those other towns originally in opposition to the deal have voted to approve it.
The city plans to exhaust the sale money in a one year, using half to plug budget shortfalls in the $20 million range.
Larger shortfalls will reemerge in the 2011 budget and those following it, when the city no longer has the benefit of 40,000 suburban ratepayers to provide extra revenue through their water bills.
Residents are fighting the sale with a petition, although that effort has not been completed and no one knows exactly how far those circulating the petition are in their drive to secure 1,170 signatures from registered voters. Doing so would delay the sale and subject it to a public referendum, which would surely become quite messy and political.
In response, city officials have threatened residents with 40-percent tax increases. They say such increases are the only avenue to securing $20 million to plug the shortfall that would be filled with money from the deal.
How long the Hamilton vote delays the approval of the sale could be crucial, in that the City of Trenton delayed its budget introduction to account for the sale money. Without the sale, it remains to be seen what would happen to Trenton’s budget, as introduced.
A budget without the sale money would have to be completely reworked, and the deadlines for a variety of budget actions loom. Failing to meet such deadlines can result in state action, like the installation of state monitors and other oversight mechanisms.
If Trenton were only so lucky…..