Kenilworth mulls ways to absorb sewerage cost spike

KENILWORTH, NJ — The borough council’s finance committee is currently considering how it will incorporate an unexpected $200,000 charge into the town’s 2018 municipal budget, due to the Rahway Valley Sewerage Authority’s yearly assessment.

The municipality’s budget for the year will be introduced on April 11, clerk Laura Reinertsen told LocalSource.
The council learned of the 28-percent increase by the RVSA at its January meeting. The increase is nearly three times the next highest municipality increase in the 11-member cooperative. Mayor Anthony DeLuca requested an investigation into the RVSA’s billing methodology, which was discussed at the RVSA regular meeting March 15.

The $200,000 represents 1.3 percent of Kenilworth’s $15.3 million budget last year, leaving only about $100,000 to fit everything else in under the state-mandated 2-percent cap for the borough of about 8,200.

The RVSA calculates its charges based on a five-year rolling average. Each member municipality of the cooperative is assessed a percentage of the yearly budget based on a formula of three components: total flow, biochemical oxygen demand and total suspended solids. A number for each town is generated from metering conducted by the RVSA at multiple locations.

“All of us (municipality representatives) have to know that when we get that yearly number — that the yearly number translates into the five-year rolling average number, and that the number is right,” Bob Beiner, RVSA commissioner for Kenilworth, said at the March meeting. “From Kenilworth’s point of view, we feel like we are getting overcharged.”

Beiner noted that from 2012 through 2015, Kenilworth’s yearly rounded numbers were 2.0, 2.2, 2.4 and 2.6. However, in 2016, Kenilworth’s number more than doubled to 5.3, and last year the number went to 5.6.

“For a four-year period our average was 2.3, and then the last two years we went up to 5.5,” Beiner said. “From my point of view, something is definitely wrong here. Common sense is that something is wrong.”

Beiner noted that, out of curiosity, he had looked at the populations of every town in the cooperative and found that Kenilworth comprises only 3 percent of the people served by the RVSA.

“This means our cost should roughly be approximately 3 percent,” he said. “The last two assessment numbers are over 3 percent.”
RVSA Executive Director Jim Meehan later replied to Beiner’s concerns, saying that population size is just one of the many moving variables that affect the bill, and population size is not always the best indicator.

“We are doing the best with a system that is inherently flawed,” Meehan said of the metering system.

Meehan referred to a previous interview with LocalSource in which he said the meters that have an acknowledged margin of error, which can vary as much as 3 percent on each meter.

Kenilworth’s former commissioner on the RVSA, Richard LoForte, previously told LocalSource that
when authorities change metering companies through a bidding process, each company has to certify its meters,
but each company certifies them differently, which is another the issue with the system.

Alternative billing methods were detailed in a memo issued by RVSA staff and engineers to the commissioners at the March 15 meeting. But, considering the other methods, enhancing the existing system is the most favorable and easily adaptable alternative, the memo concludes.

Several options for enhancing the existing methodology were outlined and it will be reviewed in the coming months according to the memo, which was obtained by LocalSource.

“We will continue to work and look on this,” Meehan told the commissioners. “And an employee from the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission is working on this too.”

“He runs the biggest collection system on the east coast, and we are putting the best eyes on this,” Meehan continued.
The RVSA owns and operates a 35-acre wastewater treatment plant in Rahway that serves the 11 municipalities, approximately 250,000 residents and 3,500 commercial users.