Mayor Andre Sayegh is facing a backlash for his administration’s implementation of sewer reforms approved by the City Council earlier in the year that led to big increases for some ratepayers.
In some cases, sewer fees increased by 100-percent; in at least one case, sewer fees jumped by 1,000-percent.
Sayegh did not have answers on Tuesday as to what went wrong and what is being done to address the situation. He said he is planning to host a town hall meeting to address the situation.
It isn’t clear what percentage of the 20,487 ratepayers saw large increases. A request from the Paterson Times seeking sewer billing records is still pending a full response.
Last week, members of the City Council demanded answers from Sayegh administration officials.
“My mother’s increase is actually 100-percent. That’s unacceptable,” said councilman Michael Jackson. “Does the administration at all plan to answer the cries we’re receiving from constituents?”
Council members said they have been flooded by phone calls from residents.
Jackson said nothing the administration presented to the council earlier in the year making the case for sewer reform appears accurate. Business administrator Vaughn McKoy objected to Jackson’s statement.
“This was a large-scale transformation. I’m not going to sit here and say everything went perfect. There’s going to be some glitches,” said McKoy. He said ratepayers were billed based on their last year’s water usage.
Sayegh administration officials changed the city’s sewer billing method. Part of the reform package included a new rate schedule for sewer billing. Under the schedule, ratepayers will have to pay a flat rate based on their water meter size and pay a variable fee based on water usage.
“We were told most of the burden would be picked up by industrial properties and nonprofits,” said councilman Flavio Rivera.
Rivera has faced the most of criticism for the big spikes because he favored creating a self-sustaining sewer utility to stop taxpayers from having to shovel millions of dollars every year towards sewer expenses.
Municipal sources said the city has yet to send sewer bills to Passaic County government properties. Government properties are tax exempt, but have to pay sewer.
Frustrated residents have been calling City Hall, but are not getting answers.
“No one is answering. That’s inconsiderate,” said Rivera. He called the city without identifying himself and was transferred to the Sewer Division. No one picked up the phone, he said last week.
“I don’t know why that phone is not being picked up,” said McKoy. There’s limited staff at the Sewer Division and some may have been busy helping other residents, he said.
Rivera and Jackson called on the administration to provide a new presentation and an analysis of the impact reforms had on ratepayers’ bills.
“At the very least there needs to be an analysis across the board,” said Jackson.
Some went a step further and suggested the entire reform be undone. Councilman Luis Velez said the City Council should rescind the ordinance that was approved earlier in the year and return to the old billing method.