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Council Moves Ahead With Water Billing Increase, Despite Protest

Borough council voted 3 to 2 in favor of approving a gradual increase of the water meter service

An ordinance that would quadruple the borough’s water meter service charge over the next three years looks primed for passage.

Council approved the measure on first reading Tuesday, by a 3-to-2 vote down party lines. If it passes second reading on Feb. 28, it will become law.

The proposed fee increase coupled with the borough's water usage rate would align what the borough charges for water with neighboring municipalities and generate over $1.3 million in much-needed revenue, borough manager Tom Metzler said.

Councilman Ed Trawinski, who voted in favor of the service charge increase, said he didn’t like having to raise the rates, but felt it was a necessary evil.

“If we don’t do it over three years, then in a subsequent year we’re going to have to play catch up,” he said. “And the catch up will hit the taxpayers with this or even something more over a period of time. If we don’t do this, the probability is that the water rates are going to have to increase also.”

Councilwoman Lisa Swain, who had supported the increase when it was initially introduced on Feb. 7, said she’d experienced a change of heart. Both Swain and fellow Democratic councilmember Kurt Peluso opposed the water billing increase. 

“I feel that with the increase in the water rates and then the fees on top of it that the taxpayers are really going to be getting an increased burden,” Swain said. “I don’t feel this is the right time to saddle the taxpayers with any additional expense.”

But time, Metzler said, is not on the borough’s side. He believes council must act now or risk severe consequences.

“If this borough does not generate another $1.5 to $2 million in new revenue in this year, we will fail next year,” he said. “Now what is a failure? We’re going to be faced with decisions such as, we need to cut $1.6 million. What department do you want to cut?”

Given the precarious economic state of the borough, Deputy Mayor John Cosgrove said he felt the revenue generated from the rate hike outweighed the hit taxpayers would take, and challenged critics to propose alternatives for balancing the budget.

“I look forward to the people who vote 'no' on this,” he said. “Their suggestions of what they’re going to cut for the deficit, where they’re going to increase revenue.”

Council’s decision to move forward with the water billing ordinance drew the ire of resident Vinko Grskovic, who spoke during the meeting’s public comment portion.

“I want to speak out publicly against Mr. Metzler’s proposed tax increase,” said Grskovic, referring to the proposed water fee hike. “That’s exactly what your proposal to raise the water rates are. We don’t have a choice as consumers as to whether or not we’re going to choose the Fair Lawn water company as the source of our water.”

In an unusually frank response, Metzler acknowledged that the fee bump did equate to a tax increase, but said he felt it was a necessary one given the borough’s economic situation.

“The driving factor behind the recommendation to council is to get this borough to a point where we’re back on financially stable ground,” he said. “Because make no mistake about it -- this is the year that we make it or we break it. And this council is going to be forced to make some very, very difficult decisions.” 

Rather than raising residents’ rates, Grskovic proposed making cuts and selling off borough assets like Memorial Pool, the public library and the senior center.

While Grskovic’s suggestion to sell off cherished community hubs was immediately dismissed by council, Metzler said even the borough’s ability to make smaller scale cuts had reached a breaking point and that generating revenue was the only option.

“While it is the easy thing to say, let’s cut service, we’ve done that,” said Metzler, who cited cuts to the police department and extremely stretched staffs in the municipal court office, recycling department and health department.

“If we don’t generate that revenue this year,” Metzler said, “next year, your surplus will be gone.”

And without a surplus, Metzler said, the borough would have to entertain drastic measures like selling off assets.

“Once you [deplete the surplus],” he said. “There’s no coming back.” 

If the water service charge is enacted, residents will pay $20 more for their water service charge each year for the next three years so that by 2014, each household will be paying at least $60 more in water bills per year, not including the possibility of usage rate increases.

Metzler initially proposed tripling the service charge immediately, but council decided that a gradual increase would be more manageable for residents.

Zak Koeske February 18, 2012 at 05:26 PM
@Thomas The access charge is currently 1/6 of what Fair Lawn's neighbors charge. With the increase, it'll be 2/3 of what Fair Lawn's neighbors charge, which is still about $40 less per year for access. As I understand it, that $40 is about how much more Fair Lawn residents pay for usage per year than neighboring communities. So in the end, it's a wash.
Bruce Knuckle February 18, 2012 at 11:01 PM
Awareness is key, however, its a long up hill climb when an election is won with 2000 votes or less. You are so correct in the play on emotions when trying to get something passed. Just look for all the drones that post children first signs when the school board is getting ready to ram another one deep. FL is managed by ego, plain and simple.
Tommy P February 18, 2012 at 11:18 PM
Here is another thought, since Metzler acknowledges the water rate hike is a tax increase, aside from the reelection aspirations of the Republicans, who benefits by raising water bills which are not federal income tax deductible vs property taxes which are?
Harold Vogel February 19, 2012 at 12:09 AM
Why should our Two Bit Politicians do any thing for our puny dollar contribution, when they get thousands from the lobbyists and big businesses?
Tommy P February 19, 2012 at 02:02 PM
@Chris. Ridgewood for example has a 100k short fall in their library budget, each of the surrounding towns is spending millions. Ridgewood could easily become a regional facility, expand its existing hours and services and provide tax relief not only in Ridgewood, but to the towns that joined in. IF we are going to maintain a library which in this day and age is a questionable decision to begin with, instead of having dozens of buildings, with dozens of staffs, administrations, boards, etc. One solution would be to bring 10 or 12 towns together and consolidate into 2 libraries. Many of these facilities have ample parking to accommodate and increasing their usage would not be a substantial impact on traffic. These should be factors in determining which building become the regional centers. I know the politicos in each town will want their building selected but ultimately until further financial pressures are place on the towns, this is unlikely to happen. As for "rif raff" from other towns, really? The Meadowlands YMCA and Ridgewood YMCA have pools (which employee the Democrat members of Fair Lawn's council) and they don't have that problem. I know of Old Mill Pool but don't know the history on it. Probably not a bad idea for Paramus to try to auction off a lease to operate it instead of letting it sit, or otherwise generate revenue from it.
Ed Rooney February 21, 2012 at 03:58 PM
What happens when the private sector refuses to take the risk- which they most likely will not- these areas become slums. Then watch your property value plummet. By the way, if the rest of you are so smart and full of ideas you think will work with your limited knowledge of what really goes on and the variables that really control the issues, why not run for council? Stop complaining and be part of the solution. Your whining and baby-like name calling strip you of all credibility.
Chris Antonelli February 21, 2012 at 05:40 PM
My take on the Rec Center Mike: Should have never been built. Here is a different take: You pick the top draft out of college. You give him a really long contract worth a ton of money. He turns out to be a bust. What do you do? We need to work with what we have. The center was supposed to be built with donations and money from the general fund. That was a lie all along. Ganz and Co. had every intention of bonding it and having their friends write the bond for almost 300K. The center was supposed to be 6M. Ended up 12M. (If memory servers me correctly, George Frey wanted 1M for improvements and a second level to the existing one.) Would have been more, but Cosgrove did a great job overseeing it. It was going to generate revenue. Not quite. You couldn't fit the parents in the gym to watch a rec BB game let alone host something. And hiring someone to rent the thing out for corporate functions didn't go so well either. To shut it down and leave it there unused would be a complete waste. It is an albatross financially, but someone needs to come up with some creative ideas for it. It may be able to generate some revenue, but I don't think anyone in the Boro has the ability to make it happen. It should have had a complete plan submitted first. This is why government doesn't work. It wasn't put out for Referendum because it would have never passed. 5 people should not make a 30M decision on something that was not a necessity.
Stuart Pace February 21, 2012 at 06:16 PM
George Frey said to me "Stu, all I asked for was a second basketball court." And Ganz took it from there.
Harold Vogel February 21, 2012 at 06:21 PM
You mean, "It's not tax money but a grant from the county/state" Ganz bends the truth?
Chris Antonelli February 21, 2012 at 06:26 PM
Stu, I was told he wanted to do some improvements to bring it inline with the times and I believe a second level. Harold, No grants, Wienstein actually thought he was going to solicit 6M in donations. Or so he told people. Ganz said if he could raise the funds, it would come from the General fund.
Harold Vogel February 21, 2012 at 08:13 PM
And us Generals will be paying for the next 20 years.
Chris Antonelli February 21, 2012 at 09:13 PM
Try 25 years @ 1M per before gas, electric and staffing.
Michael Agosta February 22, 2012 at 01:45 AM
Chris, your "top draft out of college" is a very good analysis regarding risk that the private sector takes. However, although they try to be, the Fair Lawn council is not a private sector entity. Government has no business in business. The Rec Center is a prime example. I had an investor tell that I should pull out of the market if my losses exceed 40%.Personally, I would pull out at the 25% mark. I know what amount of risk/losses with which I am comfortable. It's different when you spend other people's money. To date, no one has had an idea how to salvage the mess with this Rec Center. Closig the facility would have an immediate positive impact on the town. The gas, electric,staffing and maintenance bills would be eliminated. The town could then try to privitize the facility or simply keep it closed. Bottom line: Every day it remains open it costs the private citizens.
Tommy P February 22, 2012 at 03:26 AM
Try this on on for size. If you want to throw a private party there, similar to what the American Legion does. You can't. I know, I called, I asked. I was told no.
Tommy P February 22, 2012 at 03:27 AM
hmm I wonder where they get "their" money from. Here a hint, you see them in the mirror every time you look.
Tommy P February 22, 2012 at 03:30 AM
We have already realized the loss in every which way except accounting. Its time to cut our losses. Either auction off a long term lease or sell it. By pretending there is something we can do with it to "make money" is only costing us more in the long run.
Tommy P February 22, 2012 at 03:41 AM
If the private sector refuses to take the risk, doesn't that only highlight what a dumb idea it was in the first place? The private sector could also include a 501(3)c or other charity. It could be a mutual organization that operates the pool. This is something that would NOT be unique if we did it. http://www.dumontswimclub.com/Membership_Info.html @Ed Rooney the missing variable is the pandering for votes. They are bribing you with your own money.
Michael Agosta February 22, 2012 at 04:06 AM
Mr Paine, The reason it cannot be used for private functions---->insurance. The insurance would not cover liabilities outside the original scope of its intended use. So, if it was rented out and someone got hurt, the town would face additional lawsuits. That equates to more taxes. Keeping the facility open is a lose, lose situatiion. I would like to see the town cut our loses ASAP. Like I said, it's easy spending outher people's money. I am tired of paying for the political mistakes.
Chris Antonelli February 22, 2012 at 01:52 PM
Mike, Closing the Rec Center with 25 years left of payments totaling almost 1M per year would not be the right course of action. What needs to be done is to try to make the most of what we can with the facility. Currently there are activities for kids that go on there, as well as activities for other residents. My question is: If this is indeed a "community" center, why do we have a need for the Senior Center? What does that cost us per year to operate? What is the current membership? How can the Rec Center accommodate the programs currently held there? As to my analogy, I was trying to say that we're stuck with it, so try to get the most out of it. A pro team would try to position the player to get the most out of them. That's what needs to be done to the Rec Center if it were to be used as a revenue generator as we were told it would be. Just like the pool, no one is going to take the Rec Center. No profit to be made. There is no parking, and past the theater, there really is nowhere to host an event of any kind.
Tommy P February 22, 2012 at 06:26 PM
Hold on, are you trying to suggest its not possible to buy an insurance policy which doesn't have that limitation? Or that NO insurance company in NJ would be willing to write an event policy of which the costs could be directly covered by those private parties whom wish to make use of the facility? Just because the existing policy was negotiated with an exclusion, doesn't mean it can't be changed.
Michael Agosta February 23, 2012 at 02:38 AM
Mr Paine Great point to bring up at the council meeting.
Tommy P February 23, 2012 at 02:42 AM
Go for it!
Michael Agosta February 23, 2012 at 02:50 AM
Chris, The Rec Center is underutilized and overstaffed. If the Senior Center moves to the Rec Center, two questions: What happens to the current Senior Center? Where do people park at the new facility? 25 years of payments at $1 mil per year PLUS staff salaries, gas, electric, maintenance and upkeep. The town has had 7 years to generate revenue from this facility. Not a penny has been generated. I still say that we should cut our losses sooner than later.
Jenne March 01, 2012 at 03:20 AM
My family sure doesn't use the rec center because there's nothing there for us. It's all special use-- but then we aren't fitness walkers or basketball players. Maybe more programs or a better use of the space? I'm going to the Y with my young kid in the winter to give him a place to run around and play. I wish the Rec Center could provide that instead, I'd gladly join. We do use the library a lot. I could see joining with another nearby township for a joint library that has better parking and is less ugly, but what township would do that? Too much home rule here in NJ. There would still be service and materials costs; I'm not sure how much you think you would save on that. And who would buy or rent the library building if we tried to sell it? No parking and awkwardly placed. As for the pools, why start by letting non-Fair Lawn people buy memberships at a higher rate? see what that does to help them break-even.
Tommy P March 01, 2012 at 02:01 PM
The wreck center/ganz mahal is a textbook example of whats wrong with our local politicians. They steal from us under cover of law, then bribe us with our own money. They pander for a few years in hopes of gaining name recognition for larger political office or other personal gain. The secret is getting out, and soon they will be too. I had dinner with some friends this weekend and a buddy of mine had some interesting ideas. 1. The senior center could easily be sold and 8 new ratables could be erected. In order to maximize our return on that, zone it as two family which is in character with the area. 2. Take that over flow lot which none of the adjacent property owners want, and make it the skate park. Its already paved, has parking, etc. Post some signs that the park is open from 10am to dusk (or 6pm which ever comes first). 3. Take the profit from the Senior Center sale, add parking along the Conrail tracks at the Wreck Center, and use the building to combine the two. After all, aren't Seniors a part of our community too? Mr Metzler, where are you? Council, Hello?
Harold Vogel March 01, 2012 at 03:01 PM
"These are the times try men's souls"
Harold Vogel March 01, 2012 at 03:03 PM
The original building was there over 50 years and was still useable, it's amazing that the Parks Dept. Building was not destroyed by flooding, it's lower and closer to the river then the building that was "unusable" and had to be replaced with trailers. Even if they had quick disconnects on the service connections the wheel bearings would have been frozen, the tires rotted and the hitches probably would have fell off. This was a ploy to have a the town council memorialized by the shanties, which where bought and paid for with "free" grant money from the county, "at no expense to the town". I don't remember any public discussions at the time. WE WHERE SCAMMED!!!!!!!!!! This is my 2nd post re: trailers. You gonna remove this one too
Harold Vogel March 01, 2012 at 06:24 PM
WHoops! Wrong article if I was a politician I could say I misspoke. Following two stories at once is rough for us old folks. Especially when we keep getting bamboozled.
Harry May 09, 2012 at 05:50 AM
Libraries are a very important place in society. I know times are tough and while I may agree on cutting some hours closing them is rediculous. They need to be open after school for our children. That is one place kids can hang out,do some studying,and no alcohol or drugs.
Harry May 09, 2012 at 06:02 AM
adolpho you are wrong,I know that 1 republican was against the community center right from the begining.

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