The city’s street sweepers are inoperable due to the municipality’s failure to pay approximately $140,000 in maintenance invoices owed to the Bellville-based sweeper dealer, learned the Paterson Times late last week.
“They’re not paying. There’s nothing major wrong with the machines,” said Carmen LoRe, owner of Northeast Sweepers, on Thursday afternoon. “We were going over every Friday and making sure the machines were okay. If they had problems, we’d go, and fix the machines on Fridays. All the machines were running no problem. All the sudden no one wanted to pay.”
LoRe said the invoices are from this year. He said the Friday visits were instituted after last summer’s breakdown of the machines. He said the visits were needed due to the city’s lack of mechanics in the public works garage.
6 out of the 7 machines the city purchased for $1.26 million in 2014 are offline leaving the city without regular street cleaning, according to public works employees.
Council members were surprised the city has not paid the vendor. “I’m surprised. I’m shocked,” said council president William McKoy.
Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman, said this is more “mismanagement” from mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ administration.
Torres did not respond to a call for comment. His public works director Manny Ojeda also did not respond.
Both McKoy and Sayegh said they have received numerous calls from constituents complaining their streets were not cleaned.
The council president wondered why the machines were of such high maintenance requiring the dealer to visit the city every Friday. LoRe said his company was handling routine maintenance like changing oil and cleaning the machines.
McKoy said the dealer should not have to be called in to clean the machines. He said these, cleaning, emptying out the machines, are “operational” aspects that should be handled by the operator of the machine.
“Street sweepers require a lot of maintenances, if you’re not doing maintenance, a little problem turns into a major problem,” said LoRe. For example, when an operator fails to use water, clouds of dusts are formed that can get into the radiator, causing the machine to overheat and sustain physical damage.
Torres’ administration has been blaming the machines for the downtime. Last summer, the city tried to purchase different machines, but the proposal was shot down by the city council.
“This is the best city sweepers made. I don’t get phone calls about major problems from other towns,” said LoRe. Ravo machines have been sweeping the streets of large European cities like Rome, Berlin, London, Lisbon, Paris, Helsinki, and Moscow, according to the manufacturer.
The problems that caused breakdowns last summer resulted from poor maintenance and reckless operation of the machines by some of the operators, city records revealed at the time. Those issues have been resolved through re-training.
For example, one employee, who was reckless and did a poor job taking care of his machine, has managed a complete turnaround. His machine is the only one that remains operational out of the seven, according to the company and public works employees.
LoRe said the city stopped paying three to four months ago when the municipality instituted a purchase order system. This meant the city contacted the dealer when there was an issue and a quote was received before the firm handled any work.
The Friday visits stopped shortly thereafter. Public works employee Michael Jackson, who is the president of the union that represents the blue collar public works employees, said the machines have been having problems for three to four months.
Jackson said in the past three weeks the problem has gotten worse with six of the machines being inoperable. He said some of the machines just need new brooms. LoRe said the city is three months behind on gutter brooms.
The city could have avoided large bills by having a service contract with the dealer. LoRe said the company sent over a maintenance agreement that was never entered into. He said the dealer continued to work with the city even after it was delaying payments adding any other firm would have cut of service within 30 days of non-payment.
“I understand there’s financial problems in the city. I can only work so far before it starts affecting things here and with my suppliers,” said LoRe. He said the firm was expected to receive a check last week, but that week came and went without the city paying the firm.
Maritza Davila, who is the chairwoman of the public works committee, did not respond to a call for comment.