The City Council this week is expected to take up a politically thorny and possibly contentious plan to eliminate the Jersey City Incinerator Authority (JCIA) and fold its functions into the Department of Public Works (DPW). Plans to consolidate the two agencies have been under consideration for five years and a merger could save city taxpayers between $5 million and $10 million. Any consolidation plan would, however, affect dozens of jobs that could be eliminated due to the merger – a detail that won’t sit well with many unionized workers and one that could resonate into the 2013 mayoral race.
Councilman Steven Fulop has requested that an ordinance eliminating the JCIA be drafted and placed on the April 11 council agenda. Language of the ordinance was not available on the city web site last week.
“I am sponsoring this now because it is clearly in the best interest of the taxpayers,” Fulop said last week. “The mayor, council, and public know this. It has been debated for years. We don’t need more committees to waste time while taxpayers suffer. We can start the process now to do the right thing and provide tax relief to residents.”
Plans to consolidate the JCIA and DPW date back to 2007, when Jersey City was in negotiations with Honeywell International Inc. to settle a chromium contamination lawsuit. As part of the settlement of that lawsuit Honeywell agreed to clean up several chromium contaminated properties in Jersey City, including the JCIA/DPW site at 575 Route 440. The city at that time began to discuss moving the two departments elsewhere so the chromium remediation could begin.
Many taxpayers believe the JCIA and DPW perform similar functions are, essentially, redundant agencies.
A semi-autonomous agency, the JCIA dates back to the 1960s when Jersey City incinerated most of its garbage. By the time trash incineration was discontinued in the 1970s, the JCIA had started to perform other functions, including snow removal, graffiti removal, demolition work, and the enforcement of some environmental regulations. But some of its functions overlapped with tasks assigned to the DPW, like street sweeping. The DPW is charged with maintaining the city’s public parks, roads, and municipal buildings.
With 138 full-time employees, the City Council allocated $26.3 million to the JCIA last year, according to a memo Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy submitted to the City Council last month. The agency has requested $31.8 million from the city for 2012. Forty-seven percent of the JCIA budget goes toward a $16.9 million contract with Waste Management for trash removal and recycling throughout the city.
The DPW has 146 full-time workers and had a budget last year of $13.9 million. The department has requested a budget of $14.1 million this year.
The city’s 2012 municipal budget has been introduced but has yet to be adopted.
Consolidation v. elimination
Many taxpayers believe since the JCIA and DPW perform similar functions they are, essentially, redundant agencies. The city’s leadership seems to agree with this assessment but has struggled for years with how best to combine the two departments, particularly given that any consolidation plan will mean layoffs for some workers.
Last spring, the City Council passed a resolution notifying the JCIA that the city’s contract with the agency would likely be terminated. This 12-month notice is legally required before the city can end its contract with the JCIA. With the requisite 12 months nearly over Fulop is now formally proposing the JCIA be eliminated.
But Healy has in the past suggested the JCIA be retained and the DPW be folded into the JCIA. In his February State of the City Address he said he would form a committee to “explore” how best to consolidate the two agencies.
“Over the next several weeks, our consolidation plans will be unveiled in full detail and I am confident they will be met with support by our City Council,” Healy stated. “Good arguments can be made for consolidating the JCIA into the DPW, or for consolidating the DPW into the JCIA. I am willing to work with the City Council to accomplish the consolidation of these two agencies in a way that we believe is most beneficial to the taxpayers of Jersey City.”
The consolidation of these two agencies, the mayor said, would be a priority this year.
But Fulop, a 2013 mayoral candidate who will challenge the incumbent Healy next May for his seat, argues there are more cost savings to be realized by eliminating the JCIA and expanding the role of the DPW. Last week he said that, as a quasi-independent agency, the JCIA maintains its own set of attorneys, consultants, and accountants – professionals the DPW does not need since, as a city-operated agency, the DPW can rely on city staff for these services.
“There is really only one option that will reduce costs and increase accountability, and that is the elimination of autonomous agencies such as the JCIA,” Fulop said. “The creation of committee after committee is a delay tactic that wastes taxpayer time and money. I intend to push this forward now. The tax relief is badly needed. No more committees.”
Civil service is a factor
Any consolidation plan, including the elimination of the JCIA, is sure to anger the unions that work at the two agencies. In total, there are four unions between the two agencies that have had collective bargaining agreements with the city. The DPW unions are currently renegotiating their contracts with the city. According to the mayor, the unions at the JCIA suspended their contract negotiations with the city, pending the results of the consolidation plan.
DPW workers are protected by New Jersey Civil Service laws, while JCIA employees are not – a fact Healy said would make it easier to layoff JCIA workers and transfer DPW staff into those positions. Laying off Civil Service-protected DPW staff, he said, to make way for JCIA workers would be much more difficult.
State law currently bars the JCIA from performing some duties that are currently under the purview of the DPW. State Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City) has introduced legislation in the senate that would change this, a move some argue paves the way for the DPW to be absorbed into the JCIA and keeps the incinerator authority intact and in operation.
“I remain committed to the right sizing of our city’s government by completing a consolidation,” Healy told the council last month.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.