PLAINFIELD, NJ — Climate change and China’s new rules for recyclables are affecting PMUA’s work here, Authority Director Eric Jackson told the Plainfield City Council Monday.

“Our reality is the waste industry is adapting and adapting quickly,” Jackson said, reading from a prepared statement Tuesday.

He called the PMUA’s recent move to dual stream recycling “a responsible decision,” though adding “change is not always easy.” The 2019 plan called for alternate-week pickup of paper or mixed bottles and cans, but residents were upset by missed pickups and new rules. The city allowed use of its citywide phone messaging system to remind residents about the alternate pickups and now PMUA has its own system plus two more trucks, he said.

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Jackson said the pathway to a cleaner city requires collaboration, education, guidance, corrective action and “a healthy dose of patience.”

Among comments from the governing body, Councilman Cory Storch said, “I do think the PMUA can tighten its belt further,” and suggested reducing the number of pickups from twice to once weekly, but Jackson said one of PMUA’s biggest costs is disposal and “the volume doesn’t go down.”

Councilman Elton Armady asked about cardboard collection and Jackson said China now accepts only 0.5 percent contamination. Councilman Barry Goode noted “an enormous amount of trash” at some dwellings and asked whether there could be “too many dwellers.” Jackson said a task force does look at volume and takes steps to remediate it.

Other questions had to do with fines for not following rules, pickup times, and whether the sewer system can handle all the proposed new development. Jackson said PMUA is “engaging in capacity studies.”

The council also heard from accountant Jeff Bliss of Lerch, Vinci & Higgins regarding rate setting, and PMUA commissioners and employees in attendance stood to be recognized.

Once the council tackled the agenda, it took two resolutions and an ordinance to deal with the “emergency appropriation” issue. The city will use a $600,000 bond issue to pay for $590,000 in unanticipated back pay and other costs for several employees, as well as costs of issuing the bond.

Storch and Davis voted “no” on a resolution to apply to the Local Finance Board for approval of the bond issue, and both also voted “no” on the bond ordinance. But the emergency resolution to pay the $590,000 passed unanimously.

Storch quizzed Finance Director Ron West on paying the emergency back wages out of surplus, but West said the council had passed the $86 million 2019 budget without including the $590,000.

Corporation Counsel David Minchello said he “took great pains” to explain the matter in closed session and had explained why it was unanticipated. 

The individuals owed the back wages were not named Tuesday. The ordinance must pass on two readings, so the payout cannot take place until 20 days after passage in November and after approval from the Local Finance Board, a division of the state Department of Community Affairs. The board also meets in November.