Hamilton Mayor Calls for State Takeover of Trenton Water Works
Mayor Bencivengo Expresses ‘Absolutely No Confidence’ in City of Trenton’s Management of the Water Utility, Which Serves a Majority of Hamilton Residents
(Hamilton) – Today, Hamilton Township Mayor John Bencivengo wrote to Governor Chris Christie to formally request that the State of New Jersey takeover the management of Trenton Water Works, the water utility which remains under the appointing authority of the City of Trenton and services the majority of Hamilton Township residents, as well as residents in Ewing, Lawrence and Hopewell.
“Numerous instances over the past several months have provided me with absolutely no confidence that this utility can remain under the supervision of the City of Trenton and be responsibly operated in a manner that protects the safety of Hamilton residents and the fiscal integrity that the consumers of our community are entitled to and deserve,” writes Mayor Bencivengo in his letter to Governor Chris Christie.
Mayor Bencivengo points to 6 serious issues of concern regarding the continued City of Trenton management of the utility. These concerns include the fact that suburban town’s have no ability to vote for any public official who oversees the utility and determines the public utility’s rate (equating the situation to taxation or “rate charging” without representation), the use of utility surplus to balance the City of Trenton’s operating budget shortfalls, the safety issues presented during the utilities shutdown which required water boil safety advisories due to failures of the plant which would necessary had there been proper oversight, water main pipe collapses throughout Hamilton Township, the failure of the utility to make safety repairs dealing with chlorination of water that the NJDEP had previously ordered and the arrest and possible indictment of Trenton Water Works employees.
In his letter, Mayor Bencivengo asks that if it is not possible for the State to take over management of the utility, that the State provide suburban towns with guidance on how they can escape the City’s control over the utility and investigate alternatives for another entity to manage the portions of the water system that serve, and have been paid for, by their residents.
“Every day, it seems like there is a new, and more troubling, revelation of the management – or lack thereof – of Trenton Water Works. Yet, Hamilton residents and consumers from other surrounding towns have no recourse to escape the City of Trenton’s negligence,” explains Mayor Bencivengo. “As Mayor of the 92,000 residents of Hamilton Township, it is my duty to look out for the safety of our residents who are serviced by this utility and help protect them from the mismanagement of their utility rate payments – and that is what this request to the State is all about. Something needs to be done to protect Hamilton residents and those of surround towns. I hope that the State is willing to act upon this request and aid the people of Hamilton Township.”
December 13, 2010
Honorable Chris Christie
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 001
Trenton, NJ 08625
Subject: Request for State Takeover of Trenton Water Works
Dear Governor Christie:
I am writing to respectfully request the State of New Jersey’s serious consideration of taking over the management of daily operations for Trenton Water Works, the City of Trenton water utility, which currently services a majority of residents of Hamilton Township, as well as residents in portions of neighboring communities.
Numerous instances over the past several months have provided me with absolutely no confidence that this utility can remain under the supervision of the City of Trenton and be responsibly operated in a manner that protects the safety of Hamilton residents and the fiscal integrity that the consumers of our community are entitled to and deserve.
The following serious issues of concern have compelled me to make this request:
1) The residents of Hamilton Township, as well as residents of Hopewell, Ewing and Lawrence who are also serviced by Trenton Water Works, have no say in the management of the utility or the right to contest the rate they are charged. The water rate is set by the Trenton City Council and Mayor without any review by Board of Public Utilities. This is essentially taxation (or rate charging) without representation.
-- Request for State Takeover of Trenton Water Works, 12/13/2010: Page 2--
2) Over several years, the City of Trenton has been able to create a surplus from Trenton Water Works (despite the need for millions of dollars in upgrades to the suburban portion of the utility system which services Hamilton residents) and use that surplus for the benefit of their city operating budget. In a more simple way of putting it, Hamilton residents are seeing portions of their water bills used to help fund the staggering budget shortfalls of the City of Trenton while the water pipes that they are paying for are falling apart.
3) As widely covered in media accounts, which the NJDEP is intimately aware, the mismanagement of Trenton Water Works led to the necessity for boiling water advisories due to failures of the plant which would not be necessary had there been proper oversight. In addition, the City of Trenton not only failed to contact our governing body in Hamilton during this situation, but also posted on its official website that Hamilton residents should boil their water, although it was later clarified by NJDEP officials that this advisory was unnecessary for Hamilton residents.
4) Trenton Water Works line collapses have occurred throughout our community, which illustrate the deteriorating conditions of the water lines that service Hamilton residents. Notable is a recent line collapse under East State Street Extension in Hamilton. It is difficult to rationalize surplus from Trenton Water Works benefitting the City’s operating budget while pipes are collapsing in our community (refer to issue 2 above).
5) More recently, I was advised of a matter dealing with Trenton Water Works failure to ensure the proper chlorination of water at a particular site location, despite being instructed to do so by NJDEP. Yet again, excess portions of water bills should be earmarked for these necessary repairs that the NJDEP has recommended for safety purposes, rather than plugging City of Trenton budget holes.
6) Finally, the most recent and very troubling episode surrounding the arrest and possible indictment of Trenton Water Works employees based upon their use of utility equipment and work time to financially benefit in a personal manner from public utility funds highlights the inability of the City of Trenton to ensure oversight and proper supervision of its employees. With these egregious examples, how can anyone reasonably expect Hamilton residents who are serviced by Trenton Water Works to have even the slightest confidence in their quality of work performance and ensuring safe drinking water?
-- Request for State Takeover of Trenton Water Works, 12/13/2010: Page 3--
Again, I am respectfully asking the State to give its utmost, serious consideration in taking over the management of Trenton Water Works. If this is not possible, I am asking for the State’s guidance on any way in which suburban towns serviced by Trenton Water Works can be emancipated from the City of Trenton mismanagement and allowed to investigate the possibilities of another entity managing its own portions (i.e. the lines physically located in our communities, which serve our residents and which they have paid for through their rate payments) of the system.
cc: Honorable Bob Martin, Commissioner, Department of Environmental Protection
Honorable Lori Grifa, Commissioner, Department of Community Affairs
Lee Solomon, President, Board of Public Utilities
Honorable Tony Mack and City of Trenton Council
Honorable Jack Ball and Ewing Township Council
Honorable Michael Markulec and Hopewell Township Committee
Honorable Michael Powers and Lawrence Township Council
Hamilton Township Council