A push to renew talks about combining Atlantic City’s water authority with the Atlantic County Utilities Authority has worried community organizers who just two days ago won a commitment from the city council to hold a public vote on any plans to sell or lease the city’s water.
State Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo on Wednesday sent a letter to top officials at the ACUA and the Atlantic City Municipal Utilities Authority, urging new talks on combining the entities with a view to making sure they stayed in public hands. But Lena Smith, regional organizer of Food & Water Watch, said this would not be in the interests of ratepayers. “ACUA would have to pay a large upfront and/or recurring concession fees to lease the assets and would have to recoup this money by hiking water rates,” Smith wrote in a response to the ACUA president and Atlantic County freeholders.
It is not clear whether there might be other options beyond a lease of the Atlantic City water authority. In a separate statement on Wednesday, ACUA President Rick Dovey said there were some “institutional similarities” between the two authorities that included engineering, maintenance and repair, billing, IT and customer service functions. “ACUA stands ready to discuss various scenarios that would allow the ACMUA to remain under public operation,” Dovey wrote.
The profitable Atlantic City water authority has been scrutinized over the last few years by multiple layers of government, all interested in trying to squeeze more money out of the authority to aid Atlantic City’s dire financial position. Various community groups came together earlier this year to amass signatures in support of keeping the city water authority independent and forcing a public vote on any plan, and, as the city’s immediate cash problems also have eased, it appeared the community organizers were successful.
Smith is concerned that discussions about combining the water authority with ACUA would threaten the independence of the ACMUA.
“We believe that water systems should not be used as cash cows for cities, nor profit-generators for private water corporations, and that all water revenue should be reinvested into water system to provide the highest quality, most affordable service possible,” wrote Smith in an email to Atlantic County freeholders and the ACUA.