A few weeks ago the Hunterdon County News was shocked to post a real estate listing of the day in High Bridge where the tax payments per month were higher than the mortgage payments. After botching two Eminent Domain cases the boro put itself into a huge tax hole that it cannot dig out of and now they are proposing building their own sewer treatment plant which could cost 25 million dollars – asinine – High Bridge would be better off giving up their local government, DPW Schools, Police and melding with Clinton Twp to possibly get their out of control debt in control.
Here is a letter from the town of Clinton Mayor on the Sewer Issue
February 24, 2016 Mayor and Council Borough of High Bridge 71 Main Street High Bridge, NJ 08829 Re: Borough of High Bridge, et al. v. Town of Clinton Docket No. HNT-L-542-14 Dear Mayor and Council: I write to you to clarify the Town’s position regarding sewer services termination and to encourage the governing body members of Clinton and High Bridge to engage in negotiations regarding their disputes. The Borough of High Bridge has raised concerns about certain billing activities by the Town of Clinton. High Bridge then withheld sewer payments and continues to do so.
The Town alleged such conduct constituted a breach of contract. In addition, the Town of Clinton believes that the current sewer agreements, some of which are nearly 50 years old, are archaic and need to be upgraded. These agreements were entered into before there was a Department of Environmental Protection and before many of the operational requirements currently imposed upon the Town came about. On several occasions the Town of Clinton officials have invited Borough officials to negotiate regarding their differences. High Bridge has declined to meet. For this reason, the Town of Clinton concluded that in order to either terminate its relationship with High Bridge, or develop more modern agreements, the Town’s only option was to exercise the termination clause. On December 22, 2015, the Town passed a Resolution initiating the termination process.
That process requires five year’s notice which the Town gave. Shortly after the Town’s actions, the Mayor and several representatives of the Borough Council appeared at a Clinton meeting and expressed dissatisfaction with Clinton’s actions. Clinton pointed out that it had reached out to High Bridge on several prior occasions to negotiate, but its efforts had been rebuffed. At the meeting there were positive discussions between Borough and Town officials about the need for compromise and a proposed settlement meeting was agreed upon. When I followed up with Mayor Desire about the Town’s interest in commencing negotiations, I was advised by Mayor Desire that no negotiations would be held and that High Bridge “would only meet in arbitration.” Clinton found this response disappointing. We understand High Bridge has sought solicitations from engineers regarding the feasibility of constructing its own sewer plant. The Town certainly has no objection to this and thinks such an approach is prudent from High Bridge’s standpoint.
However, it is important that High Bridge understand the Town’s termination action. The Town has no objection to treating High Bridge’s sewage. It is doing so now; it would be willing to do so in the future. The Town exercised its right of termination because both sides are obviously unhappy with the contractual relationship between them. High Bridge feels it was billed unfairly; the Town feels that High Bridge’s actions were wrongful and that the language of the contract needs to be modernized. The logical response to these two differences of opinion is for the parties to sit down and negotiate an understanding that meets the needs of both. While the Town believes it has both the legal and contractual right to terminate its contract with High Bridge, it also believes a more prudent action is to work toward developing a new agreement that more fairly reflects and protects the needs of both parties. The Town is engaged in such negotiations right now with the Clinton Township Sewerage Authority, and indirectly, with Union Township.
The Town also believes that it is prudent for the parties to engage in negotiations, rather than spending huge amounts of money on legal and engineering questions when a resolution to the contractual disputes would avoid all those expenditures. One could argue strongly that the ratepayers in both High Bridge and throughout the Clinton sewer system would be better served by negotiations and good will, rather than paying attorney’ s fees. If the question arises as to why Clinton felt it was necessary to initiate the termination process if it is interested in negotiations, the reasons are simple: High Bridge would not negotiate and there is no other way the contractual terms can be changed unless the parties consent, the contract is terminated or a court orders some other remedy.
The Town felt it had no alternative in light of High Bridge’s refusal to negotiate. I again repeat my request that the Town and High Bridge begin negotiations seeking an amicable outcome without the extremely expensive process of resolving the current dispute and then dealing with the very complex legal and engineering issues as to whether High Bridge can build a sewer plant using either surface or groundwater discharge, and whether the Court and/or the Department of Environmental Protection would allow High Bridge to construct a new plant. While no one knows the current cost, the Town has heard estimates of up to $25 million to construct a plant.
The Town is not interested in forcing this type of expenditure on the ratepayers in High Bridge, but the Town also has to look out for the good of all of the current users of the Clinton sewer system. If High Bridge refuses to negotiate, then a confrontational, and very expensive, approach appears to be the only remedy available. The Town hopes that High Bridge will reevaluate its refusal to negotiate in good faith. I suggest the parties work out a protocol for meetings and then commence the process so that common ground can be reached. I would like to hear your response. If High Bridge continues to refuse to negotiate, it should set forth in writing its reasons why.
Sincerely, Janice Kovach, Mayor