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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Trenton Water Works mismanagement: Part 1

The Ruins of Trenton has already shown how suburban residents are truly dreaming, in being content to live outside of Trenton and be convinced they are not affected by the shenanigans that go on here.

But this, the first in a three-part series, elaborates on just one way that shows how these people are being duped into thinking that Trenton's misguided administration holds no consequences for them, financial or otherwise.

Trenton's water utility serves not only the 84,000 or so residents living here in T-Town, but also tens of thousands living outside of our borders, who get Trenton water pumped to them through an extensive system of piping, pumping stations, and other water infrastructure.

What those tens of thousands living in the various Mercer County townships don't realize though is that through their water bill payments they are actually subsidizing multiple other Trenton city departments that have little or nothing to do with the purification and provision of drinking water.

Despite the existence of state statutes regulating the use of money generated from water utilities that pump retail water to other municipalities, this city's government uses the Trenton Water Works as some sort of gold-generating cow to shore up sagging finances, say former and current Water Works employees.

For sure, revenue generated from a municipally-owned utility can be reinjected back into the host municipality's general budget funds, but only up to a number equal to 5 percent of that fiscal year's total expenditures. For the average Trenton fiscal year, that means that the maximum allowable amount of cash that can be taken from the water utility and plugged back into the city budget is somewhere around $1.5 million, out of a usual $30 million worth spent on water utility costs.

But in 2007 the City of Trenton took around $6 million out of the water utility, for a variety of costs, services, and employment positions that have nothing to do with the water utility. And not only are people in Trenton paying this secret tax on top of their regular property bills, but so are those living in the surrounding municipalities receiving water from Trenton's Water Works.

The proof is for anyone with a disciplined eye to see. Budget documents from the city's water utility show disbursements made out to city departments for services that were never actually provided to the water utility.

The administrative office of the Department of Public Works actually secures somewhere between 70 to 80 percent of its funding from the water utility revenue, say utility employees, despite the fact that Public Works does not in any way, shape, or form do 80 percent of its work for the water utility.

The Fire Department budget actually got $250,000 worth of funds from the water utility in a recent budget, for services that water employees say were never rendered. So did the Department of Public Works, which got $250,0000, and the streets division of the same department, according to the same water workers.

Apparently there are even city employees on the water utility payroll who don't even work there, in some kind of employment scheme that allows the City of Trenton to make people being billed for water pay for employment positions that have nothing to do with the provision of the substance, sources say.

They said that one year city spokesman Kent Ashworth actually got paid out of the water budget, and out of the pocket of city and township water customers.

What is really bad for the city is that looming hearings to be held by the state Board of Public Utilities on the pending $100 million sale of Trenton water infrastructure outside of the city borders could be a perfect scene for township residents and officials to bring all of these concerns up, after they fell on deaf ears a few years ago.

Conincidentally, water workers say this is a bad deal for the city, in that it will cost Trenton millions in revenues over many years all traded for a one-shot influx of $100 million into a city government that couldn't even manage a bodega.

Should a state entity decide to step in, they could potentially make the City of Trenton pay back all of that stolen water funding, resulting in an even worse financial situation for city taxpayers already facing one year of massive property tax increases.

What a mess this is.

1 comment:

Moore said...

Great post. Looking forward to the next installments. Lord knows, it's easy enough to point fingers at the failures of this Administration, and repeat vague generalities.

The subject of the long-standing and on-going financial machinations should lay out in very stark and precise figures the scale of the mismanagement.

Keep it up.