By Ron Leir
After doing without someone at the helm for more than a year, the Kearny Municipal Utilities Authority (KMUA) has decided it needs to make a change.
It has undertaken a search for a new executive director but details around the position itself are still sketchy.
KMUA counsel Gregg Paster and part-time financial officer Shuaib Firozvi, who also serves as the town’s CFO and tax collector, said that the KMUA commissioners are undecided on a pay range and whether to designate it a full- or part-time post.
Authority records show that Joseph Skelly, who held the job since the KMUA’s inception back in May 1988, was earning $109,625 a year at the time of his retirement in spring 2011. (When he left, Skelly negotiated a terminal leave package with the commissioners for $35,000, according to Paster.)
Mayor Alberto Santos, who was out of the country on vacation last week but reached via texting, said that since Skelly’s departure, the authority has been “filling in day to day administrative functions with the KMUA engineer – a cost issue – and the KMUA clerk – an authority issue with respect to KMUA laborer and plant operator.”
Santos didn’t say and neither Shuaib nor Paster could quantify how much the authority had been billed for these administrative functions, but Paster said the commissioners felt that the KMUA – with only four employees – could be run more effectively with an administrator on hand.
“The authority thinks it’s important to have chain of command,” Paster said. “For (the engineer and clerk) to handle (administrative matters) a la carte is not an efficient way of doing business.”
In a posting for the job, the KMUA said it was looking for a “licensed professional engineer with civil engineering background” or someone with a “bachelor’s degree with at least 3 years’ utilities authority experience.”
Applicants, the posting added, “should have familiarity with sewer authorities, public contracting process, the Town of Kearny and possess strong oral and written communications skills.”
“The successful candidate will be responsible for day to day operations of the Authority and for implementing policy decisions of the Authority commissioners and to attend and report at monthly meetings on such operations and policies,” the posting said.
As of a July 17 application deadline, “15 submissions” had been received, according to Firozvi.
Interviews with applicants are scheduled by mid-August, Paster said. “Then it’s at the discretion of the commissioners,” he said, as to when they would appoint someone to the position.
It’s conceivable that the commissioners could act as early as their next regularly scheduled meeting on Aug. 22 but it’s also possible they may hold off until the September session, Paster said.
KMUA Chairwoman Stephanie Santos (no relation to the mayor) couldn’t be reached for comment.
The KMUA, which has a budget of about $3.3 million supported by user fees, is responsible for the collection of combined storm water drainage and sewage from 58 industrial customers in South Kearny and for the operation of a separate sewage system that serves eight customers in a portion of the Meadowlands section of Kearny.
After removing solids from the waste water via primary treatment, the KMUA pumps the water to the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission for secondary treatment and discharge. The PVSC bills the KMUA for its services and the KMUA pays those fees through its collection of user fees set by an annual rate structure.
According to the Town of Kearny website, the KMUA “maintains one 17.5 million gallon per day capacity pumping station in South Kearny and three smaller pumping stations in the Kearny Meadowlands.”
The KMUA, which operates autonomously, is currently undertaking improvements to the North Hackensack Ave. drainage catch basin system at a cost of more than $1 million, Shuaib said.
If and when the authority does decide to hire a new leader, that individual is likely to be up against it when the time comes to move into his or her offices at the KMUA plant, located at 39 Central Ave., where, Paster said, improvements are needed and being considered by the commissioners.
“There are ventilation issues – there is, essentially, no functioning air-conditioning – and fire safety concerns,” Paster explained. “The (KMUA) plant is over 55 years old and hasn’t had any substantial rehabilitation during that time.”
However, to date, the authority has yet to authorize plans to proceed with renovations, he said.