REMARKS FROM MAYOR ZIMMER TO CITY COUNCIL REGARDING PROPOSED SUEZ AGREEMENT
Mayor Dawn Zimmer spoke before the City Council tonight regarding the proposed renegotiated agreement with Suez Water. Her prepared remarks are below:
I am here to urge you to put politics aside and give honest and fair consideration to the proposed renegotiated contract with Suez Water.
As you have learned since we first introduced the proposed agreement nearly 2 months ago on July 11th, the agreement includes over $31 million in capital investment and repairs for the City of Hoboken. It also includes $10 million in debt forgiveness and future savings for bulk water costs. This represents a total of over $40 million in net economic benefit for the City and its taxpayers.
This agreement would put Hoboken on a strong track to annually fund much needed water main upgrades. It would forgive debt for water and maintenance agreed to under the existing extremely unfair agreement. It would create a fairer system by making additional future costs for water and maintenance the responsibility of water ratepayers based on water usage, such as car washes, laundromats, and commercial operations, rather than leaving a substantial portion of the burden paid on taxpayers as the current agreement requires.
I think it is great that the Council has asked a lot of questions and taken time to seriously review the proposed agreement. Had such a review taken place back in 2001 when the City entered into the disastrous amendment which is the cause of the urgency we face today, perhaps we would have had a better result.
Councilman Ramos voted for that amendment. He rubber stamped an agreement that actually reduced Suez's maintenance obligation from $550,000 per year to $350,000 per year for 23 years and created the enormous bulk water liability for the City that everyone is so concerned about. I want to repeat that because it is truly baffling – he voted to reduce Suez’s maintenance obligation by $200,000 per year. Far from benefitting the City, that agreement actually cost the City of Hoboken over $17.6 million dollars. This includes agreeing to new water terms that are estimated to cost $1.3 million annually starting in 2014 and it reduced Suez’s maintenance obligation by $200,000 starting in 2001 and going until 2024, costing the City $17.6 million (water: $1.3x10=$13 + $200,000x 23=$4.6 million).
And what did we get in exchange for this enormous $17.6 million cost? We got a mere single $2.6 million payment that Mayor Russo, with the support of Councilman Ramos, used to plug a budget hole. This funding was not even used to invest in the water main system. Councilman Ramos was recently quoted by Hudson County View saying "we still have a number of years left on this deal so we have no real urgency to move this forward right now." I strongly disagree. It is time to stop the bleeding caused by this disastrous decision.
I’ve heard a lot of misstatements from members of the Council since this proposed agreement was announced. I think it’s important that however you decide to vote, the public should know the facts.
Councilman Mello told Hudson County View that the contract put in front of us doesn't seem to be any better in any facet than the existing contract other than it is going to put more money into maintenance, which the Councilman claims will be on the backs of taxpayers. The Council has repeatedly been provided with information making clear that this is not true - there is a $40 million benefit to the City and its taxpayers.
Councilwoman Fisher, supported by Councilman Cunningham and Council President Giattino, have made references to unspecified unanswered concerns while demanding that we hold numerous additional meetings out of the public eye, while at the same time claiming to champion transparency.
This proposed agreement was provided to the Council almost two months ago. We have held two subcommittee meetings. Including this meeting, it will have been discussed at two City Council meetings, and the City has twice provided written answers to the questions asked by Council members. We have made those questions and answers public so residents can fully understand the issue. The demand that we engage in an endless process behind closed doors is simply a transparent attempt to avoid taking a vote on a critical issue because there's an election coming up and the politics are complicated.
As you all know, this issue is critical to the people that we represent. I urge you to put the politics aside and to do the job that we were all elected to do which is to act in the best interests of the City that we have each taken an oath to serve.
This includes having an honest discussion about the merits of this agreement without political grandstanding, and then taking a vote. I hope everyone will support this. But if you do not, then please say clearly what you would support so that the City can move forward. For example, if you believe that the $40 million benefit to the City is insufficient and we should instead settle for nothing less than $60 million, please say so. If you believe that the City should simply terminate the contract and bid it out, then say so.
Simply saying “I have concerns" or "this agreement isn't good enough", or that "Mayor Zimmer is a lame duck who should no longer be permitted to do her job as mayor" is not fair to the public that we serve and does not provide the information needed to consider next steps.
Suez now has a very important 10-minute presentation on leak detection and smart water technology that I hope you will allow them to present today.
|Reaction of the council during Mayor Zimmer's comments on the proposed Suez contract later removed from the agenda. From left: City Council President Jen Giattino, council members Peter Cunningham, Dave Mello, Tiffanie Fisher and Ruben Ramos.|
Photos courtesy of Jhnny "to the butter" Newman