Shutting down water utility?


The N.J. Civil Service Commission has sanctioned Kearny’s plan to, essentially, shut down the town’s water utility by terminating its employees, effective June 30.

Town officials expect that by that date, they will have concluded ongoing negotiations with Suez North America (formerly United Water Co.) to take over the operation and management of the utility.

As outlined in a March 31 letter to Civil Service, Kearny is proposing the layoff plan “for reasons of economy and efficiency.

“Due to attrition, the Town presently does not have a certified-licensed Water Superintendent or sufficient manpower to properly operate the water utility.

“Based on a thorough analysis of its operations, the Town has concluded that it can more inexpensively and efficiently provide water service to its residents by engaging in a subcontracting arrangement with a private vendor, Suez, than by hiring the new employees who would be necessary to staff the water utility.

“Moreover, the Town has not been able to locate an availalable certified licensed operator. As such, the Town seeks to abolish its Water Department operations and maintenance division, and lay off or transfer the remaining employees in that department.”

The plan calls for the elimination of five full-time positions:

  • Keyboarding Clerk I, held by Paula Cavalier.
    • Clerk 2, occupied by Russell Murray.
    • Water Repairer 1, filled by Arthur Bakarich and David G. Yogg.
    • Assistant Water Superintendent, held by Theodore Ferraioli.
    • James Francis Neubig, listed as Maintenance Worker 2, “will be subject to an intradepartmental transfer to Kearny’s Department of Public Works,” as will Ferraioli, according to the plan.

Martello said that Suez has agreed to place Bakarich, Murray and Yogg on its payroll.

Asked where Cavalier would end up, Martello said: “That’s something we’re continuing to look at. Nothing’s been decided yet.”

In seeking alternatives to layoffs, the Town says it has reached out to private vendors “to determine whether they would be willing to provide supplementary services to the Town so that the Town could continue to employ the affected employees in the Water Utility [but] no private vendor has been willing to agree to such an arrangement.”

The Town says that its legal representative met with Paul Kleinbaum, attorney for Kearny Civil Service Council 11, on Feb. 25 to provide details about its layoff plan and that Town Administrator Michael Martello met with each affected employee on March 14 and 18.

Both general and individual layoff notices were to be issued to the employees by May 13.

All but one of the employees is vested in the state pension system, having worked at least 10 years or more. They can opt to defer retirement or wait until they attain age 60 to begin collecting their pension.

In the meantime, Kearny is continuing a contractual arrangement with Suez, paying the firm more than $28,000 per month for water billing, collections and customer service” and nearly $12,000 per month for “interim water operations and management.”

Negotiations with Suez toward a long-term agreement have been proceeding for the past six months. Those talks were preceded by the town undertaking a public bidding process for a utility operator but that yielded only one proposal – from Suez – setting the stage for the town to negotiate terms.

“We’ve been deliberate [in those talks],” said Mayor Alberto Santos, “because we want to ensure we cover all operation issues adequately in terms of staffing and response [to water emergencies] by Suez, we want to ensure that the cost of providing those services is fair and the state’s approval of the layoff plan is necessary to implement the transition to Suez.”

When all is said and done, Martello said the town expects to be paying “the same or slightly less” than what it now costs to run the water utility. The difference, in going with Suez, he said, is that, “we’ll have a fully functioning utility, with a certified water service operator on board.”

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