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Sewerage Authority to Hold Budget Hearing on Jan. 22

Ewing-Lawrence Sewerage Authority's executive director recently announced Lawrence Township's sewer rate will remain flat in 2013, and also that ELSA is planning in invest $20-25 million to upgrade its 60-plus-year-old treatment plant.

The Ewing-Lawrence Sewerage Authority will conduct a public hearing of its proposed 2013 budget next Tuesday, Jan. 22, at 7:30 p.m. at the authority’s treatment facility at 600 Whitehead Rd. in Lawrence Township.

ELSA’s board is expected to approve the budget at the conclusion of that hearing, which was originally slated for Jan. 15 but had to be postponed because not enough board members were available to form a quorum.

(A copy of the budget can be found in the media box to the right.)

When he appeared at the Jan. 8 Lawrence Township Council meeting to discuss the 2013 budget, ELSA Executive Director Robert Filler announced that – thanks, in part, to better-than-anticipated revenue generated last year through sewer connection fees assessed on new construction in Ewing and Lawrence, such as the Cheesecake Factory at Quaker Bridge Mall – there will be no increase during 2013 in the sewer rate paid by Lawrence Township customers.

(Filler’s council meeting presentation begins at the 4:20 mark of the Audio Part 1 file also in the media box.)

During the meeting Filler noted that much of ELSA’s treatment facility on its 34-acre Whitehead Road property was built in the 1950s and 1960s. The authority serves all of Ewing and Lawrence townships, as well as a small section of Hopewell Township that includes the new Capital Health System hospital off Scotch Road.

While the treatment facility has a maximum daily capacity of about 16 million gallons, the average flow is about 12 million gallons, with 60 percent of that coming from Ewing and the remaining 40 percent from Lawrence, Filler said. Accordingly, the two municipalities pay the authority an annual fee calculated on that 60/40 flow breakdown. Hopewell’s sewer discharge flows through Ewing Township, with Hopewell paying Ewing directly for the service.

“We measure every gallon that comes into the plant,” Filler said.

The authority will send its official bill for 2013 to Lawrence Township sometime in February, he noted during the meeting.

Last year, the sewer rate charged to Lawrence Township customers increased 15 percent, going from the 2011 rate of $3.94 per 100 cubic feet of water used to $4.54. Using 14,200 cubic feet as the annual water consumption average, township officials last year calculated the average ELSA customer in Lawrence would pay $686.68 (including a $42 annual service fee) in 2012, compared to $601.48 (including the $42 service fee) in 2011.

The authority operates 10 pumping stations, with seven of those located in Ewing and the remaining three in Lawrence. Currently in the system there are about 25,000 individual sewer connections, 450 miles of sewer pipe, and over 10,000 manholes, according to Filler.

Filler said ELSA’s unionized workers are in the third year of a four-year contract that provided cost-of-living increases of 2.0 percent in 2011 and 2.15 percent in 2012, and gives them a 2.25 percent increase this year and a 2.65 percent hike next year. Despite those wage increases, he said, the authority has kept staffing costs level through reductions in manpower and overtime.

Looking to the future, he said, the authority plans to embark on a “major upgrade” to keep its treatment plant performing well and to stay in compliance with state Department of Environmental Protection standards.

“We have to keep this 50-, 60-year-old plant running,” he said.

While construction will begin in 2014 and continue through 2015, with the total cost between $20 and $25 million, the authority will not have to begin paying debt service on the project until 2016. That, he said, is something the authority timed to take advantage of the fact that ELSA will see $1.3 million worth of annual debt service expire in 2015.

On top of that, 75 percent of the money will be interest free through the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust. And, Filler added, 2015 will be the last year that ELSA will have to pay an annual fee of $1 million toward Mercer County’s aborted sludge facility that was built on Duck Island in Hamilton Township in the early1990s.  

Come 2016, Filler concluded, Lawrence Township customers should not pay any more toward ELSA’s debt service than they are already paying.

He also noted that the authority expects to have a website –  http://elsanj.org/ – online sometime next month.

Next’s Tuesday’s ELSA public budget hearing, unfortunately, takes place at the same time as the next scheduled meeting of Lawrence Township Council.

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dokieartiechokie January 20, 2013 at 05:07 AM
Sewerage maintenance is a 'silent service' provided to our community. Thanks to the men and women of ELSA who keep our system running safely and reliably.

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