RED BANK: TWO WATER BONDS ON AGENDA
A wireless water meter installed on a newly constructed home on Oakland Street. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
With two clocks ticking down to the same deadline, Red Bank officials expect to introduce a pair of bond ordinances Wednesday night in hopes of avoiding restrictions on water usage and new connections to the water system.
One would authorize $1.9 million in new debt to replace nearly every water meter in town. The other would bond $1.83 million pay for a new water well to supply the borough-owned water utility.
Each is tied to a March 4 deadline set out in a pending memorandum of agreement between the borough and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Councilwoman Linda Schwabenbauer, who heads the finance committee, told redbankgreen last week she’s confident the borough will be able to meet both.
• The water meter bond is a retry, at a lower cost, of a $2.2 million funding plan that was introduced almost 14 months ago, but died of inaction. It briefly reappeared on a draft council agenda last May, but was pulled before the meeting, amid talk that it would be back two weeks later; it wasn’t.
The bond would pay for new wireless meters to be installed in all of the borough’s 3,800 homes, many of which are now equipped with old, failing devices, officials contend; the average age is 17 years, while water utilities “typically test or replace their residential size water meters every 10 years,”according to a FAQ posted by the borough in December, 2014.
The proposed meters, which can be read remotely from a borough office, are also needed because 17 percent of the water pumped by the borough-owned water utility is unaccounted for in bills, and faulty meters are partly to blame, officials contend.
The latest version of the bond ordinance is for a smaller sum than originally anticipated, said Schwabenbauer, because further research into the meters led officials to reduce the cost estimate.
Under the pending agreement with the DEP, the borough has pledged to replace 90 percent of the meters this year and the rest before the end of 2017. But it has to submit a firm plan for the program by March 4. Otherwise, the DEP could force the town to impose restrictions on lawn watering.
• As previously reported, town officials have said the proposed new water well is needed because, by the DEP’s calculations, the borough has a nearly 200,000-gallon-per-day shortfall in “firm capacity,” or the amount of water it could supply in the event its largest well was out of service.
In years past, New Jersey American Water Company had guaranteed to make up that deficit, but last year informed the borough it no longer could because of commitments to other customers, borough Administrator Stanley Sickels has said in the past.
In November, the council authorized its then-engineering consultant, T&M Associates, to draw up plans for a new, 750-foot well at the Chestnut Street public utilities complex. It would function as a backup to the primary supply source, a well atop Tower Hill on the East Sidem and is expected to be capable of producing a million gallons a day, which would more than cover the deficit and in fact could enable Red Bank to sell water to other water utilities, Schwabenbauer said.
The clock is ticking on a March 4 deadline, however. That’s when the DEP requires the town to submit “shovel-ready” engineering plans for the well, system connections and related technology. Meeting that deadline would also give the borough a shot at a loan from the DEP’s Environmental Infrastructure Trust program. But competition for the loan, whichThe loan, which is 75-percent interest-free, and eligible for 18.75-percent forgiveness, is strong, with two projects in Newark exected to be in contention, Schwabenbauer said recently.
On January 2, the council’s new Republican majority, in one of its first acts, replaced T&M as its engineering consultant with borough-based Maser Consulting. But T&M remains on the well project, said Schwabenbauer, in the interest of avoiding delays.
“It just made sense to have them continue,” she said.
The agreement with the DEP also requires the town to to submit an “asset management plan,” described as “a strategy to assess the current state and remaining useful life of Red Bank’s water supply asset,” for DEP review by September 1.
Here’s the agenda: RB Council agenda 012716