If Evesham Township Council decides to move forward with the recently discussed dissolution and restructuring of the Evesham Municipal Utilities Authority as a department under the municipal government, it won’t have the support of one key group — the MUA itself.
On Nov. 4, before a packed crowd in the courtroom of the municipal building at the monthly meeting of MUA board of commissioners, no MUA board member would motion to take up the resolutions on the meeting’s agenda authorizing the dissolution of the MUA, therefore causing the motions to fail.
The MUA is a public entity separate from the municipality, funded from the revenues gained from ratepayers by performing water and wastewater operations for properties in town.
However, before the vote, or lack thereof, township manager Tom Czerniecki once again made a business case for the dissolution, and several citizens gave their thoughts on the proposal.
Czerniecki pointed to ratepayers potentially realizing a savings of $4.3 million over 10 years if the municipal government absorbed MUA and its debt was reissued as municipal debt.
At past meetings, Czerniecki has also pointed out that the MUA as a separate utility is legally required to carry about $9 million in cash reserves for its $31 million in debt service, funds which would be freed through dissolution.
In the past, Czerniecki has also noted overlapping operational savings that could be achieved without eliminating existing employees, as well as savings through better planning of capital improvements.
“I’ve been speaking since day one that my comfort level with this is just bring everyone over and treat it as a name change,” Czerniecki said.
During the meeting’s public comment portion, resident Dan Meyers praised the way the MUA runs and raised concerns that even if the current township council has good intentions of running the water and sewer services as they are now, albeit as a department of the township, in the future there could be different councils, mayors and township managers with different priorities.
“It’s something along the line of if it’s not broken why should we actually fix this? I don’t think there’s anything to fix,” Meyers said.
Resident Michael Hayden, who also praised the MUA as it operates, said he worked in municipal government for 30 years and voiced concerns about water and sewer money being used for other purposes if the township directly controlled it.
“I’ve never met a mayor or council who didn’t try to squeeze money out of residents to go toward something they wanted,” Hayden said. “I’d hate to see these rates increase to go to projects for other portions of the town.”
Phil Warren, a Democratic candidate for council in the November 2014 election, also spoke positively of the MUA and said it wasn’t the job of the board members to focus and vote on matters such as their own dissolution.
“If council and the mayor want to pass this, then this is the job they need to do — they need to gain support and make a pitch for this plan, and the ball needs to be in their court,” Warren said.
Resident Byron Druss said he agreed with Czerniecki that the economics of the dissolution made sense. He also responded to concerns from other residents who had previously spoken of fears that dissolution could possibility lead to a sale of the system to a private company.
Druss said his research had lead him to believe privatization of water and sewer systems only occured and increased rates when there was lack of capital improvements beforehand over many years.
He questioned how either the MUA or township would handle such improvements so such a sale would never be necessary.
Czerniecki also addressed some of residents’ concerns, and said he would be comfortable with language in any dissolution that made it so MUA money would still go toward water and sewer purposes, but that would ultimately be a decision of the council and the township solicitor examining the legality of tying any future governing body’s hands.
Czerniecki also said he had not heard any conversation regarding privatization other than the rumors, but noted as a resident he was against it.
“Although I don’t have a vote, I have a voice and I would very strongly argue against ever selling it, and I would not hesitate to speak up against it, but we would have to do that as a community and just express our strong opinions about that,” Czerniecki said.
Whether council moves forward with a dissolution resolution without the support of the MUA remains to be seen, and any application for dissolution would still have to be submitted to and approved by the local finance board under the state Department of Community Affairs.
Czerniecki said speakers at the meeting had excellent policy questions for the governing body to decide, and if dissolution is a road council still decides to go down, he urged residents to continue attending council meetings.
“I’m just going to encourage you to keep everyone’s feet to the fire and make sure it’s done very well,” Czerniecki said.