The state’s local finance board this week approved the dissolution of the city’s Municipal Utilities Authority.
The dissolution comes following the agency’s involvement in several controversies, including paying airfare for former mayor Jeffery Jones and former agency chairman Erik Lowe’s plane tickets to India.
“Why is the Paterson MUA paying for a trip for a former mayor, not this mayor, to go to India? What does that have to do with hydroelectric power? It was a little nutty to us,” commented Thomas Neff, director of local government services, on August 13th, 2014.
The board held hearing that was attended by both parties: the administration of Jose “Joey” Torres and representatives of the agency.
Bruce Ackerman, lawyer for the agency, argued using a report, that the dissolution of the agency would be harmful to the city. Ackerman began by answering the India question. “The India trip was as a result of an energy related proposal that came to the MUA to develop a solar facility along that river bank, to use open lands,” said Ackerman. “Some of the manufacturers and the ties to them, were in India. That’s why the MUA agreed to pay airfare only, to send two people to go investigate whether this was viable.”
Ackerman argued just landscaping per a month would cost the city $4,000, whereas it currently costs the agency $1,200. The report crafted by the agency’s lawyer also mentioned other costs that are likely to sky rocket if the agency is dissolved and its functions are folded into the city’s public works department.
“It is not fiscally responsible to turn all of these things over to the City of Paterson,” stated Ackerman.
Erik Lowe, vice-chairman of the agency, also struck a fiscally responsible note, stating he took on the responsibilities of a full-time executive at the agency without taking a single dollar in pay.
“I actually took on, without the title of Executive Director, again, that position at zero cost to the MUA Board,” said Lowe.
Torres, who attended the meeting in August, said the agency was created with a $3 million loan from the city, and it has yet to return that amount. Torres said had the agency been repaying the city the money it owes, it would not have been accumulating the assets it has after the agency’s lawyer argued the agency has been well managed and fiscally stable.
Torres said he will honor all contracts entered into by the agency. And will even honor the agreements the agency entered into with vendors for the jazz festival.
With state approval granted the city council has to pass its ordinance ending the agency. The council has already acquiesced to the dissolution of the agency with a first reading ordinance; a second reading, final ordinance, is likely to be approved soon.