BRADLEY BEACH — The COVID-19 pandemic has affected so much in the borough, but one of the least expected areas to feel the virus’s impact is the sewer utility.
During a workshop on the borough’s sewer utility on Tuesday, elected officials discussed how their bill from the Neptune Sewer Authority will be $70,000 more, from $708,440 to $781,340, this year compared to last year as flow has increased over the past year.
Elected officials in Bradley Beach said the increase was tied with an increase in flow, which they attributed to an increase in residents and summer residents staying in the borough throughout the pandemic.
“What we surmise here is that in the COVID year, not only did many people stay in town and not go back to their primary residence but we had a pretty significant amount of people either renting or having people stay with them,” Mayor Larry Fox said on Tuesday when the borough held a budget workshop for its sewer utility. He said that estimates were that sewer flow to the Township of Neptune Sewerage Authority [TNSA] increased by seven percent year over year. “We were not a sleepy beach town last winter.”
The TNSA conducts waste water treatment for Tinton Falls, Neptune Township, Wall Township, Avon-By-The-Sea, Neptune City and Ocean Grove.
Last year, the borough collected $2.47 million in revenue from the sewer utility, with $1.82 million in expenses. Currently, the utility has a surplus fund worth $2.3 million.
While the borough has a surplus fund nearly as large as a year’s worth of revenue, Mayor Fox said the second phase of the sewer improvement project, which will improve infrastructure from Second to Fifth avenues, will continue this year.
The borough expects to transfer $200,000 from its surplus fund to help pay for those capital expenses. Chief Finance Officer Sandra Rice said that, after speaking with the borough’s Department of Public Works, One of the borough’s two sewer pumps has stopped working and is currently being repaired, with work expected to cost $20,000. With the other pump working over time, she recommended including $25,000 should the second pump need to be overhauled.
Other expenses include well cleaning, which needs to be done at least four times a year, at the cost of $2,500 to $3,000 per cleaning; replacement of a backup level controller at $3,500; installation of a transfer switch to allow for remote monitoring, at $15,000; video surveillance in the non-restored sewer lines to check for leaks, at $25,000; a new grinder for the pump, valued at $65,000 and a third pump, valued at $45,000. Combined these improvements would cost $213,468.
A perennial issue for the borough council has been salaries and wages for municipal employees coming out of the sewer utility instead of the borough’s general fund.
In the past, the utility has included a portion of the salary for the borough administrator [$33,000], superintendent of public works [$25,000], the assistant superintendent [$22,000], chief financial officer [$19,000] as well as the salary of the sewer and tax collector and sewer operator. Combined, those salaries accounted for $256,000 of the $309,000 spent last year in salaries and wages for the utility.
Ms. Rice said that to allocate 25 percent of the salary of these professionals, who work on the borough’s sewer utility, “isn’t necessarily exorbitant.”
“I think it’s well within your rights to do that,” she told members of the governing body on paying some employees out of the utility.
Last year the borough decreased sewer rates after deciding to move those salaried positions into the general fund. While some on the council hoped to decrease rates again this year, Council President Al Gubitosi said it would be wiser to invest more in the borough’s sewer infrastructure.
“I’d like to suggest that this notion of having a significant surplus in our sewer is a fiction,” he said, adding that the borough is on the second of five phases on sewer repair. He warned that repairs over the next decade for the utility could cost somewhere close to $12 million.
“My new way of looking at this … is trying to understand what the true cost of our sewers will be over the next 30 years, and it’s likely to increase by half a million dollars annually over the next 30 years,” he said.
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