Friday, January 6, 2017

Private money fixed Bayonne water; now time to pay up

Brenda Flanagan reports for NJTV NEWS:

“I can’t afford it. You know, I just can’t afford it any more,” said Sandra Richardson.

Bayonne native Richardson walks dogs for a living and says she can’t keep up with her rapidly rising water bill. Rates have jumped almost 28 percent since Bayonne privatized its water utility in 2012.

“My last bill was over $400. Yeah for three months,” she said. “I think it’s ridiculous. I can’t afford, for something as basic as water.”

Residents complain and post bills on Bayonne Talks’ Facebook page. For people on fixed incomes, it forces hard choices.

What does Mark Schutte do without?
“TV, internet. You figure out how to cut down on a few things,” he said.

But the 80-year-old system needed millions in upgrades and — like many city councils across New Jersey and the nation — Bayonne’s had avoided biting that bullet for decades.

“And then suddenly, you know, they have to pay the piper. And they have to go in and do this work, and the rates go up significantly,” said New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel Director Stefanie Brand.

“They get a large increase all at once and that’s much harder for ratepayers to bear.”

Instead of trying to upgrade the crumbling infrastructure on its own, Bayonne forged a 40-year partnership contract with $150 million in up-front financing from the private Wall Street equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts. [20112 announcement of the public/private venture]
The city used that money to pay off old debts, dissolved its MUA and brought in SUEZ Water to run, maintain and upgrade the drinking, storm and wastewater facilities. SUEZ rep John Ludington says it found a rusted, leaking mess.
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