With opposition growing daily, Mayor Fulop appears to be reversing his controversial decision to shift to individual homeowners the cost of trash pickup, a cost previously shouldered by the city.
“Suez/MUA has agreed to stop the billing on their new formula until that formula can be corrected,” he wrote yesterday in a Facebook post. Explaining his decision, the mayor blamed the Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority [MUA] and water company Suez for “sending out incorrect bills with regards to water billing that have been much larger than agreed upon.”
In a sign that Suez may have been caught unaware by the mayor’s flip-flop, four hours went by before it went on Twitter with a message to Jersey City residents. “Please DO NOT pay the Solid Waste fee on your current bill while we work with @JCMUA and @JerseyCity to ensure that bills are accurate.”
Neither the mayor nor Suez gave any indication as to what might replace the fee that began appearing on homeowners’ water bills in recent months and became known, derisively, as the “water tax.”
The mayor’s about-face was a surprise to some. Only three days earlier, the mayor had gone on “The City Show” to call complaints about the trash hauling fee “political rhetoric” and said that he was “happy to make [the] argument every single day” as to why the new charge was fair.
And, indeed, the mayor’s city council adversaries were quick to point out their long- standing opposition to the trash fee.
“I’m going to file this under ‘better late than never,’” said Ward E Councilman James Solomon. “We’ve been sounding the alarm on this backdoor, regressive, $300 flat tax on low income families since February.”
Said Councilman at large Rolando Lavarro, “I’m glad to see that Mayor Fulop has reversed course on his MUA backdoor tax. To be clear, the original intention of Mayor Fulop’s backdoor tax was never to create ‘tax fairness.’”
Mayoral challenger Lewis Spears also released a statement. “Jersey City residents were negatively impacted by the consequences of a policy that seemed to be rushed into place. They demanded to be heard and now we essentially have a reversal of course.”
Until yesterday, however, the mayor had been adamant that the trash collection charge wasn’t a tax increase. “If the average house is having a $300 increase [for trash] but their taxes are going down by $1000 how is that a backdoor tax?” the mayor asked in his City Show interview.
The mayor pointed out that tax-abated properties were not previously being charged for increases in the cost of garbage pick-up. “Something like garbage collection that goes up exponentially every single contract…those tax abated buildings don’t participate in that.”
If there was an economic case to be made, however, many Jersey City residents weren’t buying it. Barbara Waddell called the charge “totally unacceptable.” Dora Butler asked “why are we paying for garbage collection twice.”
Perhaps the most incisive critique came from Council at large Candidate Elvin Dominici and former State of New Jersey Auditor Caroline Algernon. In a detailed spreadsheet provided to the press, they illustrated how the owner of an expensive property Downtown would see a net savings from the new charge while the owner of a less valuable property would see a net increase in costs. Said Algernon, “this charge will undo much of the [tax benefit of the] reval” for property owners in less affluent neighborhoods.
With a petition against the “water tax” beginning to attract signatures and with a bevy of independent candidates and activists coalescing around the issue, it appears the mayor decided that making the “argument [for it] every single day” of an election year wasn’t a great strategy.