EOWC announces end of water rate increase

EAST ORANGE, NJ — Residents received some good news when the East Orange Water Commission announced on Sunday, Jan. 31, the official end of the emergency temporary rate increase that had retroactively been in effect since May 2015, although the public was not notified about it until August 2015.

According to EOWC Board President Michele Antley, beginning with the February billing cycle, customers of the water utility will be charged reduced water and sewer rates. The rates will decrease to an adjusted rate and bills will vary from customer to customer, based on water use and the efficiency of plumbing fixtures and appliances.

“I want to thank all of our valued customers for their patience, as we transition the EOWC into becoming a system where quality, cost efficiency and environmental compliance are top priorities,” said Antley on Sunday, Jan. 31. “Our current course of action will allow us to bring the EOWC to a point of full efficiency and self-sustainability.”

She said in August that the East Orange Board of Water Commissioners issued a temporary rate increase to meet operating and capital expenditure needs. Since then, Antley said, a new plan to address short- and long-term goals of the water utility has been implemented and current projects under way are vastly improving the system’s aging infrastructure and rebuilding the water system.

Elizabeth-based attorney Ashton Thomas filed a class-action lawsuit against the EOWC in Essex County Superior Court last fall, seeking an injunction against the rate hike before the start of the current heating season,“to protect the seniors, veterans and disabled adults who might well go without heat if their water services are shut off.”

That case was heard by Judge Robert H. Gardner, who ruled to dismiss the suit.
“We are satisfied with Judge Gardner’s rulings denying the request for a stay of the rate increase and dismissing the case,” Antley said in a statement on Friday, Nov. 20. “We are making vast improvements and upgrades to East Orange’s water system and we look forward to continuing to provide quality water and service to our customers.”

Thomas said he was disappointed but not deterred by Gardner’s decision, but believed, “One can only expect a secondary increase,” saying it is his duty to “warn the public.”

Former EOWC Commissioner R. Greg Ward said he is taking Thomas’ warning to heart. He and former water commissioners Khalid Wright and Darry Walls are currently involved in a discrimination lawsuit they filed in Essex County Superior Court against the city of East Orange, Mayor Lester Taylor and other “major media outlets” for “publishing false and malicious information without any verification or determination of the facts regarding the performance of the EOWC.”

Despite the lawsuit, Ward said he was glad to hear about the water rate reduction. “This is good news for the residents, but my question would be: How do these revised rates compare to the old rates?” Ward asked on Sunday, Jan. 31. “Are they only reducing it by a small percentage or closer to the old rates?”

Ward said residents deserve to know how much they have been paying for their water and how much they are likely to have to continue paying for it, despite the EOWC’s talk about a rate reduction as of Monday, Feb. 1.

The former commissioner announced that a 5th Ward community meeting was scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 3, where the EOWC water rate will likely be discussed.