Ocean City Renews Fight with Water Company Over Customer Billing
The Utility Advisory Commission questions New Jersey American Water about billing procedure.
Do you remember whom you were emailing in 2005? Bill Sundermeir does.
Six years ago, Sundermeir, chair of the Utility Advisory Commission of Ocean City, sent an email to Frank Simpson, director of Rates & Regulation at New Jersey American Water Company, questioning the way in which the supplier of water and sewer service to Ocean City bills its customers, specifically at the time a home is sold.
The commission views the water company’s billing practice as unfair to the home buyer.
“Say you have a house for sale and 12 people are renting it,” explained Joseph Clark, city representative and liaison to the commission, which met Wednesday in Council Chambers on the third floor of City Hall. “At settlement, there may be one person buying the house. Billing for that person should start clean. Instead, the buyer inherits a lingering problem from the people who lived there the summer before and may have been irresponsible in their water use.”
New Jersey American bases its sewer service charges on the previous summer-quarter usage (July, August and September). The commission contends that the company should have a mechanism in place by which to charge the home seller instead of passing the cost to the home buyer.
“You should never be billing a customer on someone else’s use,” Sundermeir said. “The people who cause the cost should pay the cost.”
Because this issue has become a hot button (again), Sundermeir looked through his computer files for his original email to New Jersey American.
“I sent a proposal in 2005,” Sundermeir said. “That’s how long this has been going on. I found the email, tweaked it and sent it to NJ American Water last Wednesday. I said, ‘Here’s our proposal from six years ago.’ I called Frank Simpson on Monday to see if he got it. He said they’re still considering it.”
The commission proposes that the home seller pay sewer service charges for the entire year, and the home buyer pay a nominal fee based on average use, according to Utility Advisory Commission secretary Chet Czerpak.
According to a handout available at Wednesday’s meeting, the water company collects sewage in Ocean City, and cleans and maintains the collection system. The Cape May County Municipal Utilities Authority maintains the pumps and pipes necessary to treat and dispose of collected sewage. Roughly 35 percent of a customer’s sewer payment goes to New Jersey American and the remaining 65 percent to CMCMUA. The same handout says the policy of calculating charges on the previous summer’s usage “… ensures that everyone will share proportionately in the CMCMUA’s costs of owning and operating their sewer treatment facilities.”
Sundermeir said the fight with the water company is not over.
“I’ll be back with Frank again and again,” he said.
In the meantime, Sundermeir had good news for New Jersey American customers: If the Board of Public Utilities approves a decrease on Aug. 18, sewer charges should dip 15 percent, or $120 per year for the average user.
“There was an over-collection from last year,” Sundermeir said, “and this year they’re passing it along.”
Also discussed at Wednesday’s meeting:
- Atlantic City Electric is reconductoring its wiring on Bay Avenue, switching from copper to aluminum. Copper is much more expensive than aluminum, and aluminum provides the ability to insert a steel core among the strands, improving strength, said UAC member Eugene Hille.
- Having a problem receiving Channel 2? Check your security cameras. If your security cameras are on the same frequency as Channel 2, you won’t be able to view that particular station. Sundermeir said a resident contacted him and Comcast about his inability to receive Channel 2; a Comcast technician figured out the problem.
- Clark said that users of smart phones have noted a decrease in service during high-volume times on the island, such as the Fourth of July and Night in Venice. Specifically, data transmission has been sluggish, and in many cases, nonexistent during times when demand has overwhelmed the networks’ capabilities. Questions on this issue have been referred to individual carriers, such as AT&T and Verizon.