Stanhope drowning in its own water bill

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:47

    STANHOPE-The proposed 50 percent increase in fees for water and sewage usage continues to be a concern and cause for frustration for borough residents. The most recent town meeting saw residents accusing the council of "dropping the ball" and asking why there will be such a high increase in "one shot." In responding to the complaints, Mayor Diana Kuncken explained that failing to change the rate, would result in a "shortfall" for the 2005 budget. According to Councilman James Benson, for the past several years, the borough met its financial obligations to the Musconetcong Sewage Authority by using money out of its surplus fund, but the point has been reached, he said, where surplus money can no longer satisfy the disparity. In response to residents' requests, the mayor said, the council would provide charts comparing water fees from surrounding municipalities and invited residents to view the Musconetcong Sewage Authority's budget, which is on file at the municipality office. "How can we survive when we are looking at such fantastic sewage fees? If you expect to have any more (businesses) moving into the town, it will not come at $13.10," said Liz Armstrong, owner of the Whistling Swan. "We are shipping out laundry to save on the water bill, which should be one of my last concerns." Councilman Brian Murphy, speaking to the businesses of the town, said that the committee will address the issues regarding cost and acknowledged that "what we charge commercials is onerous." "Thirteen dollars and ten cents per thousand gallons is a tremendous expense," he said. Under the new fee structure, business will pay six-and-half times more than a residential hookup. "We need to find a more equitable way. But the bill (to the Sewage Authority) is not going to change, and it isn't going to go away," said the mayor. She explained that in the past several years in addition to using surplus to pay the assessment, the borough "rented out" excess gallonage to both Byram and Mt. Olive. Stanhope, the mayor said, is now looking for other ways to utilized its excess allotment to help reduce the taxpayers' bill. The mayor spoke of two possibilities to ease the payment crunch, "The development or redevelopment within our own community to spread the cost out, or to sell the gallonage to someone else." The idea of selling the excess allotment to a Hopatcong developer drew complaints from several residents last month. However, the council did not close the door to the possibility. "We have an obligation to explore any option," said the mayor. A special meeting will be held April 12 at the municipal building regarding the increase.