Parsippany residents and businesses could see their sewer rates go down starting in the beginning of 2013.
Mayor James Barberio made the announcement of proposed rate decreases and a sewer rebate during Tuesday's Township Council agenda meeting at Town Hall. He also filled in the blanks for residents regarding the many problems Superstorm Sandy caused for Parsippany at the end of October—including a close call for the town's new sewer treatment plant.
"All along, we've discussed that once the sewer treatment plant was complete, we would come up with a plan to lower the rate and also to give money back to the residents," Barberio said. "This was something we said we were going to do from day one."
The mayor said his administration is proposing a 10 percent decrease in the sewer rate and a $1.5 million rebate for the first quarter of the new year.
"In the future were going to see if we can reduce it more," he said. "Hopefully we can do it next year too and get the rates down to where they should be."
He noted that the new sewer treatment plant has reduced energy costs for the township by about 60 percent.
Business Administrator Jasmine Lim outlined some details surrounding the rebate.
"The [one-time] giveback is allocated by category—residential, garden apartment, commercial—in the same percentage that the revenues are brought into the sewer plant," she said.
Lim explained that, for example, a residential unit would receive a rebate of $49.73, $48.53 would be given back for an apartment unit and $1.14 per 1,000 gallons would go to commercial entitities.
Additionally, quarterly sewer fees paid by residents and businesses would go down.
"What we're proposing is that the fixed rate for [single-family homes] will be decreased by almost $10 a quarter, or about $40 a year [in savings]. For garden apartments, the decrease is, again, close to $10. Both would go down to $51 per quarter," Lim explained. "For commercials, the decrease would be 90 cents per thousand gallons, so the final rate would be $5.14 per thousand gallons."
She added that the figures announced are "really conservative."
"We ran some scenarios for 10, 15 and 20 percent, and we decided that at least at this first stab at it, it's really safer to stick with the 10 percent," Lim said. "If in 2014 it looks like we're building that surplus back, we can reduce the rate further and issue another rebate, if that's what the council chooses to do."
The sewer rate decreases will have to be presented as a proposed ordinance to gain council approval, according to the business administrator, but she said she was unsure whether the rebate must be approved via a resolution or by ordinance. She said that in any case the approval process will be put into motion beginning next week.
Lim said that a surplus of about $4.5 million would remain in town coffers for the sewer plant.
"And that is okay with the bonding companies?" asked Councilman Michael dePierro.
Lim said yes.
Mayor Barberio said maintaining a sewer surplus was necessary in case the new treatment plant malfunctioned—which almost happened during Superstorm Sandy.
"Our sewer treatment plant was almost compromised by the storm," he said. "That would have been a travesty for the township of Parsippany-Troy Hills.
"We were in a dire emergency at that time. We were at one point...12 hours away from the infrastructure in Parsippany possibly failing. There were a lot of calls from residents calling to get their power back on, but the priority had to be taken care of. The sewer treatment plant and the water department became priorities because they lost power."
Barberio credited the Office of Emergency Management and the sewer and water departments with averting disaster.
"If our infrastructure [had been] compromised, it would have been a huge state of emergency for Parsippany," the mayor said. "If it had failed, we would have lost revenue like you cannot imagine."
During the storm, the mayor communicated what was happening through a series of press releases and social-media messages that did not tell the entire story. Before the Town Council and an audience of residents, he related what many did not know at the time.
"Before the storm—and we prepared for the storm—we had an abundance of fuel," Barberio said. "But during the storm we ran a lot of generators, and the fuel was being depleted. As everyone knows, fuel became scarce, not only for residents, but for the township of Parsippany-Troy Hills.
"As of Friday, we had only had 800 gallons of diesel fuel left to run the town. We had situations we had to handle immediately."
The mayor praised Wawa Gas on New Road for coming to the township's aid during the crisis.
"They delivered to us at 8 o'clock on Friday 6,500 gallons of fuel so our infrastructure could run properly. As the mayor of the township of Parsippany-Troy Hills, I can tell you: We owe a lot to Wawa."
Barberio said the situation improved afterward, especially after Gov. Christie instituted gas rationing.
"But it made me realize we do need to keep a certain amount of surplus in the sewer treatment plant," he said. "We cannot deplete the surplus. If we do, there is no contingency plan; there's nothing available to grab onto during a state of emergency."
According to the mayor, the sewer system ultimately did not fail "because of the proactive approach we took."
Barberio announced that on Dec. 11, the Township Council will be briefed on what happened during Superstorm Sandy by representatives of the Office of Emergency Management.
"I was going to do it tonight, but Capt. [Jeffrey T.] Storms [of the Parsippany Police Department and OEM] has been busy with [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] because a lot of residents had a lot of damage during the storm," he said, adding that getting an accurate assessment of the damage is important so that the town gets the 75 percent reimbursement FEMA pays out for approved storm damage.
He went on to praise Storms, Capt. James Carifi and Chief Anthony DeZenzo for their work during Sandy.
"A lot of people don't understand what went on," he said. "We lost all our traffic lights within a two-hour period. We didn't have the resources right there and then, but we did what we had to do. Capt. Carifi and Capt. Storms got everything on track within hours. It was fantastic. Our volunteers [too]... Major lines went down. You couldn't get to certain areas of Parsippany. We had areas of Puddingstone where residents had no way to get in or out.
He even had positive words for Jersey Central Power and Light, which has been criticized greatly by many residents who suffered for many days in the cold and dark during the storm.
"They came to the rescue for Puddingstone," the mayor asserted. "That was a concerted effort between OEM and the administration to get there immediately, because with no way to get in or out, we had no way to get emergency vehicles in there. That's what we were faced with that night."
Barberio said time-consuming storm tasks for town workers included neighborhood assessments to determine which houses were damaged or if any life-threatening conditions were present.
"A lot of the social media that was put out [by the township and the police] was responded to, thanks to smartphones," he said. "Was it perfect? No. Not everybody has a smartphone. So we went door to door when we had no [other choice].
"When you hear the briefing on Dec. 11, you're going to hear how committed, helpful and accountable OEM was, along with all our volunteers—the [Community Emergency Response Team, Emergency Medical Services], Rescue and Recovery, all the fire districts in this town. It's amazing how they banded together for the residents of Parsippany-Troy Hills.
"It was a tough, tough two weeks."