Sussex Borough to let public decide on utility sale

Measure to sell water and sewer system will go to referendum on Nov. 4

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  • Photo by Vera Olinski Bill Weightman, a resident of Hardyston and candidate for Sussex County freeholder, speaks to the Sussex Borough Council on Tuesday regarding the proposed sale of the water and sewer utility to Aqua America.

The Sussex Borough Council will allow the public to decide whether it should sell the Sussex Water and Sewer Utility Systems on the November ballot.

The measure passed 4-2 on Tuesday with Councilwomen Linda Masson and Annette Stendor opposing the measure. Council President Marina Krynicky, Councilmen Bruce LaBar and Salvatore Lagattuta and Councilwoman Georgeanna Stoll voted for it.

Masson continued to quote from as at the council's July 15 meeting. She said that Aqua America rapidly raises rates through infrastructure surcharges and many states are having problems with the company.

Masson continued that one particular problem is discontinuance of sewer service for non-payment. If someone owes more than $100, Aqua sends notice after two weeks. Then, the process is to shut off service after two weeks.

Aqua America attorney Debra Lynn Nicholson addressed Masson's concerns and said it seemed Masson had already prejudged.

Masson had been concerned that Nicholson had contacted her before the July 22 meeting to see if Masson had any questions. Nicholson said she contacted Masson in order to bring available information.

"(It was) part of a civilized society in public discourse," Nicholson said. "In order to answer questions and allow people to make informed decisions through public hearing. Especially since there were so few bidders due to the troubled water system.”

One resident complimented Masson on her due diligence in researching the facts.

Lagattuta said the council should allow the people to be part of the process because there are issues that need to be discussed. The council should collect the positive and the negative. Then “everyone can make an informed decision” and “within the next four months, we can sort this out.”

"We should know all of our facts before it goes to a vote," Stendor said.

Stoll said it was such an important decision, affecting all taxpayers, that six people should not be the only ones making it.

Masson said the currently delinquent accounts are the borough's problem, and Aqua did not foresee raising rates in the next three years.

The sewer is contingent 100 percent on approval from the Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority.

“The two sides need to be presented, not just one," Masson said. "Who will advertise for the opposing side? They are coming in here and doing a big campaign.”

Lagattuta said Aqua would assist the borough, but Krynicky said she wanted to see it in writing as the sewer rates beat up the community.

"It was one of the issues why I got on this council," she said. "We have spent the last 2 1/2 years restructuring the rates."

The latest change in the sewer rates went into effect July 1 and the sewer bills will arrive in the middle of October.

“There are a lot of questions, and we need to forge a contract with them," Krynicky said. "You say you are so great, Aqua, put it in writing for us. Present the town with information.”

Stoll told the attending public they needed to have their neighbors come out and be educated so they can make an informed decision in November.

"You should be the ones to have the say," she said. "We are just putting it on the ballot. We don't know if Aqua is telling the truth; we have to research it. We need to have these meetings and get everyone educated and get all the truth.”

Stoll also said the rates will go up if the borough keeps the utility.

Stendor did not want to sell a resource.

Most of the eight members of the public were for putting the question on the ballot in November.

Nicholson also encouraged the council to check with the Wallkill Valley Water sewer system.

Freeholder candidate Bill Weightman encouraged the Council to contact the Robbinsville mayor to verify trouble according to Internet sources. He also encouraged the council to contact the Better Business Borough. He also asked if the Council had ever thought of bottling drinking water.

Lagattuta said that if the borough keeps the utility, they don't know how much the rates will rise. With a $2 million bond, 3.5 percent interest rate for 30 years, a single family owner with one EDU might go up around $88 per year, just for the $2 million bond.

Lagattuta explained that private utilities operate at a one-third lower cost than public utilities.

"Should we still be a little town running a big business?" he asked.

He said there would be so much the council could do if it did not have this big responsibility.

The referendum passed with applause.

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