What is the increase in Fort Lee’s bill going to do to your municipal tax assessment? Because of the increased bill of $465,000 that the Bergen County Utility Authority (BCUA) issued Fort Lee and because of the more than $500,000 in unexpected energy funds that the town needed during Hurricane Sandy, taxpayers whose homes assess for $465,000 will pay an increase of approximately $127 a year.
During Thursday’s Mayor and Council meeting, Mayor Sokolich said the BCUA’s bill of $760,000 represents a 19 percent increase. He said, “This is the highest increase in any Bergen County town and the borough is fighting it.” The city is not going to concede to the BCUA, according to Sokolich. He said, “Our commitment to reducing that bill will be hopefully successful.”
This leaves everyone wondering why Fort Lee received such a large increase. Sokolich explained that the water pipes (sewer) and storm pipes are connected in the combined district of Fort Lee. In other towns, the pipes of water and storm water are separate and both are directed to different areas. It would costs thousands of dollars to change this. In the past, this combination did serve Fort Lee.
Since the bill is based on gallons and the concentration of those gallons, the concentration was always low. Sokolich said, “Because we’re a combined system, the gallons are high, but the concentration is low. In years past it was a wash because our concentration was low.”
According to officials, that was changed two years ago, because the BCUA changed its billing system to a county wide average. Bergen County’s averages were three to four times higher than those of Fort Lee. By changing this configuration, Fort Lee’s averages are higher and therefore result in increased billing.
Sokolich said, “We successfully sued two years ago. It appears we’re subsidizing Bergen County.” An auditor agreed that the 19 percent increase is four or five time more than what any other town’s increase is.
Sokolich advised that the town is going to fight the BCUA increase vigorously and that the town already filed the OPRA request and hired a firm that specializes in waste water bill management. He said, “It’s incomprehensible that we can be that high.”
That does seem like a rather steep increase for the town. Can the combined drainage pipes really be the reason why the town’s bill is so high, or could it be a math error?
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