The recent spike in water bills for Bayonne residents may be the start of something big politically.
Several years ago, Bayonne officials sold off municipal assets in order to get out from under a huge debt. Their agreement originally established a one-time hefty increase in water rates, after which residents would see a more modest but steady increase over the next few years.
Some of the sale money was set aside as a hedge against any unexpected shortfall, such as a decrease in revenue.
As with all such piles of cash lying around, like the budgets of Congress and Social Security back in the 1970s, the temptation was irresistible. Faced with municipal budget issues, Mayor James Davis opted to move this hedge into the general fund to reduce a potential tax increase.
Then water revenues fell, and the city did not have the money to keep the water rate stable. The rate jumped three times the amount most people expected, and from what some insiders are saying, residents can expect a similar increase next year.
For months, some anti-Davis people have been talking about organizing a recall election against Davis and his City Council. The question was, based on what?
It usually takes some significant event to bolster a recall, and even then, there have only been two successful recall elections in Hudson County over the last four decades.
With former Mayor Mark Smith apparently looking to reverse his loss to Davis last year, the water rate issue could be a windfall, magnified by the fact that the city has not been able to keep its huge turbine running. The turbine was designed to provide power for some of the municipal utilities, but its poor performance adds even more expense to an already troubled local economy. Davis has also become embroiled in yet another labor contract with local teachers – an issue that contributed to Smith’s defeat two years ago.
If the city’s municipal budget comes up significantly short and requires a hefty tax increase, Davis might find himself on the short end of the political stick.
Zimmer sticks her finger in the dike, but the water still comes
Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s administration got hit hard this week about its proposal to build a wall on the waterfront to prevent floodwaters from another Superstorm Sandy from inundating Hoboken.
Some people see the proposal as somewhat misguided, since a regional study done last year for Jersey City showed Hoboken will continue to get flooded, wall or no wall, until other parts of Hudson County shore up to keep the river away from the door. (The August, 2014 Sandy Recovery Strategic Planning Report can be read on line.)
Even during routine storms, Hoboken has huge water problems that a wall may not help with. Historically, Hoboken is an island, which is the reason that the 4th Ward area around the Second Street light rail station often floods after a heavy rain. Water also pours down off the Palisade Cliffs from Jersey City.
Even during normal rains, basement apartments along streets like Bloomfield Street see water pouring out of toilets and sinks as check valves break. This is because water pours down from higher elevation streets like Washington Street and creates pressure in the combined sewer runoff system.
For years, heavy rains often made carpet companies rich as residents of basement apartments dragged out water-soaked rugs with the trash.
In some ways, the wall the Zimmer administration proposes is also symbolic of its relations to the communities around it, as Hoboken seeks to isolate itself, developing solutions that are not solutions. While local residents complain about the loss of their residence’s river and Manhattan skyline views caused by such a wall, some officials elsewhere in the county shake their heads about the wasted expenditure of federal funds that they think will not solve the flooding problems.
Why is Hoboken preparing for another Superstorm Sandy when even an ordinary rain can lay ruin to it’s residents’ lives and possessions?
As with the recent debacle involving the bike share program, in which Hoboken mysteriously filled a public bike rack in Jersey City without bothering to ask anyone in Jersey City government, the flood issue smacks of the Zimmer administration’s inability to get along with its neighbors even for something as important as controlling flooding.
Behind the scenes of the bike share issue, however, is a much more interesting political story. While the Zimmer administration has reached out to Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop to have some Hoboken bikes installed in Jersey City and some Jersey City bikes in Hoboken, Fulop has apparently told Zimmer that she has to deal with Jersey City Councilwoman Candice Osborne. But Zimmer reportedly hasn’t returned any of Osborne’s calls.
Insiders suspect the reason may have to do with the 2013 Hoboken mayoral election, and bad feelings created when some of Zimmer’s opponents experimented with an election application for smart phones that helped in the post-election counting of votes. Osborne is deeply involved in the technology field, and apparently wanted to try the new application in the practical setting of an ongoing election.
Some insiders believe that by offering the app to Zimmer’s opposition, Osborne may have become persona non-grata when dealing with the mayor’s office.
Not dead yet by a long shot
When former Secaucus school trustee Tom Troyer went to church last week, some people were startled to see him.
“They said they thought I was dead,” Troyer said.
So many people were convinced he had shuffled off this mortal coil that they were offering to say prayers for him.
Living up to the old Mark Twain quip about reports of his death being greatly exaggerated, Troyer suggested this rumor was why his letters were no longer being printed in one of the local newspapers.
He later discovered that rumor was likely generated by a notice his son put into the church bulletin honoring Troyer’s father, who is also named Tom.
“But he does that every year,” Troyer said, suggesting maybe his political opponents are guilty of wishful thinking. “I’m still around.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.