East Brunswick looks to do away with sewerage authority

Stahl: Township takeover of agency could bring savings, greater efficiency


While township officials will look at a range of cost-saving initiatives in 2010, the possible dissolution of the East Brunswick Sewerage Authority may be the most significant.

Mayor David Stahl broached the idea in his Jan. 25 State of the Township address, saying it would likely save the municipality over $300,000. If approved, he said, the autonomous body would be dissolved and merged with the township-run water utility, subsequently creating a single municipal utility.

“Processes will be streamlined, productivity of the work force increased, billings for water and sewer will become one, thereby saving postage and staff time, outside professional positions such as engineers, auditors and lawyers will be eliminated, and insurance costs reduced,” Stahl said during his address.

The EBSA was created in 1956 under state statutes to provide for the collection and disposal for residential and commercial sewerage, and is a participant in the Middlesex County Utilities Authority (MCUA). However, Stahl noted that the municipality has undergone ample change since the authority’s inception, and such an independent group is no longer needed.

“The goal is to achieve a more efficient government,” Councilwoman Catherine Diem said. “It was formed when the township was still being developed. It served a purpose, but now the township certainly needs to do away with it.”

Implementing the move would require input from the Township Council, which has the power to adopt the ordinances needed to dissolve and merge the body. Approval from the state Local Finance Board is also necessary, because several EBSA-related bonds would need to be reissued.

“This will take a series of months to accomplish,” Stahl said. “But we’re hoping that by the end of the summer the transition will be complete.”

Despite a lengthy process, the initiative would save and continue to save the township a substantial amount of money, in part due to a considerably low township bond interest rate of .45 percent, according to Stahl. A consolidation of services will provide cost savings as well.

“Why have a water bill and a sewer bill?” he asked. “It’s a duplication of services. This would save residents both time and money.”

Though he estimated savings to be around $300,000 for 2010, Stahl said the actual savings might be higher due to a work-force fusion with the water utility as well as potential retirements.

“My goal with a single municipal utility is to integrate the expertise from employees and commissioners from the authority into the volunteer citizen group that makes up the Water Advisory Board,” Stahl said, noting that savings would also be realized by incorporating EBSA’s engineering work into the water utility. “Besides dollars and cents, this is a more effective managerial plan.”

Plans to improve and update the township’s computer software system are also in the works in order to provide residents with the option of paying utility bills online, he said.

At least one Township Council member is skeptical about the idea.

“I was taken by surprise by the mention of it,” said Camille Ferraro, the council’s lone Republican. “I wonder why, since it’s semi-autonomous and is self-funded and self-maintained by the staff. Why would you threaten the quality of service by melding it into another authority? The only thing both have in common are pipes and water.”

Ferraro noted that the EBSA does not take care of all East Brunswick residents and business owners. Some areas of the township are run on septic, and could therefore be paying into township-run services that they will not use.

“The lines become blurred between the dedicated usage of a dollar,” she said.

Ferraro noted that a minimal EBSA surplus would make dissolution difficult, and the cost of an attorney in the initiative has not been incorporated into savings.

“I’m not jumping on board that train before I review all the facts,” she said.

Ferraro requested a thorough report detailing the process and savings before any decisions are made.

Stahl will be meeting with EBSA and water utility officials in the near future to discuss the merge. At the moment, EBSA Executive DirectorGaryMarshall said the authority is willing to discuss the issue.

“The council will ultimately decide, but right now we’re trying to figure out what it all means,” Marshall said. “We have no formal position at this time. We’re just going to follow the mayor’s lead and see where there can be savings.”