KENILWORTH, NJ — The borough was hit with a 28.5 percent increase in its sewer assessment when the Rahway Valley Sewerage Authority approved its 2018 budget at its January meeting, indicating the municipality will have to raise taxes or cut something from its budget.
“There will be an impact,” Richard LoForte, a former RVSA commissioner who represented Kenilworth on the authority for 10 years, told LocalSource on Feb. 7.
Despite LoForte’s objection to Kenilworth’s increase, the budget passed 10-1.
Effective on Feb. 1, LoForte was not reappointed to the board of directors, and is to be replaced by Robert Beiner.
“That increase is directly charged to the borough, and it will be incorporated into their budget.”
The borough will either have to “increase taxes, or cut expenses in other areas, such as from within the police department or the department of public works,” LoForte said.
Four towns in the 11-member cooperative saw a 2 to 3 percent increase; three towns saw decreases and Mountainside, Westfield and Garwood were up 6 to 10 percent.
But Kenilworth’s assessment went from $709,549 last year to $908,922, a increase of $201,373. That accounts for 31.5 percent of the RVSA’s budget increase of $638,500 to $26,272,500, a 2.61 percent jump, approved at the Jan. 18 meeting.
The municipalities are charged for their usage using a formula based on three variables: total flow, biochemical oxygen demand and total suspended solids, all of which are measured by metering.
RVSA Executive Director Jim Meehan told LocalSource in a recent phone interview that 32 meters measure the system and its variable calculations. A percentage of the total budget is then assigned to each municipality.
Other municipalities that saw increases were: Cranford, up 2.76 percent; Garwood, up 10.03 percent; Mountainside, up 5.98 percent; Scotch Plains, up 2.25 percent; Springfield, up 2.39 percent; Westfield, up 7.35 percent; and Woodbridge, up 2.83 percent.
Roselle Park saw a 11.98 percent decrease in its assessment. Other municipalities which had their assessments lowered were Clark, down 3.01 percent, and Rahway, down 3.25 percent.
Kenilworth Mayor Anthony Deluca told LocalSource over email on Feb. 10 that the town is in the process of putting together its budget, and he is not sure how much the increase will affect taxes at this time.
Created in 1951, the RVSA is a 35-acre wastewater treatment plant in Rahway that currently serves 11 municipalities, approximately 250,000 residents and 3,500 commercial users.
Its board is comprised of one representative from each municipality including: Kenilworth, Clark, Cranford, Garwood, Mountainside, Rahway, Roselle Park, Scotch Plains, Springfield, Westfield and Woodbridge. Winfield Park and portions of Fanwood and Linden are also connected into the system, but are not members of the RVSA.
The RVSA board is charged with the responsibility of passing yearly budgets, and determining how the municipalities should be billed. The billing methodology has to be agreed upon by every board representative for it to be effective.
Challenging the meters that support the formula, LoForte and the Mayor DeLuca would like to see a change in the assessment.
“An investigation was requested in our metering and test sampling methods,” DeLuca said. “At the current rate our assessment will double in three more years.
“Two years ago they changed metering companies at the same time as our usage shot up; it was significantly lower the prior years. The hard part to challenge is that (the company) certifies the calibrations on the meters.”
Also questioning the meters, LoForte told LocalSource that when authorities change the metering companies through a bidding process, each company has to certify its meters, but each company certifies its meters differently, which is where the issue lies, he said.
“The authorities have to find a solution to this, and create a better method of measuring that is a little fairer,” LoForte said.
While Meehan sympathized with Kenilworth, he stated the current method is not perfect, but no method is.
In a phone interview with LocalSource, he said Kenilworth saw an increase because there is a margin of error that is part of the calibration built into the meter, and which can be off up to 3 percent on each meter.
“So, if Kenilworth had several meters that are off in the calibrations, and if their flow increased while other municipalities’ flow decreased, it would affect Kenilworth’s billing,” Meehan said.
There are two other ways in which municipalities can be billed: measuring equivalent dwelling units and billing for water usage, which obtains water-use totals from the water utility’s meters.
“We are going to look through the billing method to see if we can make the billing more accurate and more fair,” Meehan said.