Thursday, April 7, 2011

My Position on the PMUA

Dissolution of the PMUA? Some would have Council members just give a yea or nay. Many of my constituents want a yea from me on dissolution. That would certainly help my re-election campaign. But elected officials should not give simplistic or politically expedient responses to the PMUA problem.

The PMUA has dealt with two serious problems in Plainfield and in its early years, I was completely convinced the PMUA was a better solution than what we had.

First, our sanitary sewer system, under city control, had not been maintained for many years and was falling apart. Would city hall do better today with sewer maintenance? Looking at the ineffectiveness of the city to fix our roads, create a useful website and implement modern information technology (and seeing deficits with other city operations), I am not convinced the city can compete with the PMUA on this front.

Second, garbage pick-up is a mixed bag (pun unintended). PMUA workers get much better reviews than the private haulers of the past. But the cost for this service is well above the market rates. Cost has become the overriding concern for me and residents are saying this loud and clear. Here is where the various alternate solutions need to be carefully considered before we "dump PMUA".

Solution 1: dump PMUA garbage pick-ups and go back to private haulers. When we had this in place, some property owners discontinued trash pick-up and dumping became a huge problem. PMUA has made major inroads into this, with a cost shared by all property owners. Could we use private haulers, supplemented by periodic city wide dumping sweeps? That could be more affordable. We would need to do some number crunching.

Solution 2: dump PMUA garbage pick-up and give it to the city. As with sewer maintenance, can the city do this well and at a better price? City services have gone downhill. That's no surprise considering the Mayor's inability to attract and retain good senior managers. To make matters worse, her response to our leadership gaps is to spread blame rather than make concerted efforts to attract talent. Another concern about bringing garbage pick-up back to the city is around cost. Will this solution weaken further Plainfields inability to afford city worker pension and health benefit costs? I don't have the answers but we'd better analyze this before making cost saving claims.

Where does this leave us? Here are options as I see them:

1. Reform the PMUA. That's been my position up till now. I am less and less convinced that this is the way to go for two reasons: the PMUA Commission's refusal to meet with Council and the unfulfilled promise of bringing in service contracts from other municipalities to offset cost to Plainfiel residents. The bottom line on reform is that the Mayor will have to nominate 2 or 3 sharp critics with business experience and a desire to make changes to join the commission. We all know who they are. Mayor nominate them. They don't need to be in the majority on the commission. A fresh perspective will add much needed credibility to the PMUA.

2. Council creates an independent task force to study and make recommendations on Plainfields course of action. This would not be "study to death". It would be a six month time frame. Task number one - determine the Council's legal options. Once these are established, the task force would proceed to tackle the solid waste and sewer concerns expressed all over our city. Participants would have to commit to an objective fact based process. Plainfield has many such people ready to serve. Council would have to commit to take recommendations seriously. One conclusion could be dump PMUA. This should be a clear headed decision. Another conclusion could be keep PMUA with a revised charter and policy and operational changes. The only starting assumption for the task force is that the PMUA must become accountable to Plainfield residents. Current events have proved that PMUA is not accountable now.


olddoc said...

Cory, the main problem with retaining PMUA is the Board of Commissioners who are charged with appointing the administrative officers. On the other hand if it all reverted to the city how can we think that the Mayor will make good selections?

The tax question is a valid one. That plus the greatly increased City financial liability without public control is moat disturbing and a reason to disband PMUA

Anonymous said...

Fine suggestions except you need PMUA cooperation. PMUA doesn't even come to the Council meetings when requested, and you think they are going to let people look at their books and ask questions about the operation?

Need more feasible suggestions, and here is a question. Are people elected to the Council to do what they think is right, or to do what their constituents want? The people in the 2nd ward have cogent points of view of getting rid of PMUA.

My suggestion - fire all of PMUA, take on the debt which we owe anyway, and outsource the whole function.

Anonymous said...

We need more studies and less action. That seems to be your plan.

Anonymous said...

Very thoughtful and much too rational for Plainfield.

Anonymous said...

Why don't you and the council put the public areas to bid? As I understand it 40-something percent is for the public areas. This is absurd!