Enough is enough.
Mayor Carmen F. Amato Jr., township officials and residents all spoke against United Water Toms River's petition for a nearly 24 percent rate increase - the third since 2008 - at a public hearing at Town Hall last night.
"It's not the time to do it," Amato said. "In these times, United Water should sharpen their pencils and maybe make a little less money this year."
Residents are still reeling from the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy and the poor economy. Homeowners in the senior communities living on fixed incomes are especially hard hit, the mayor said.
Resident Christine Hough called the increase "intolerable."
"I got paid yesterday," she said. "I'm broke today. I paid my mortgage. I paid all my bills. I've got $76 in my checking account. That's what I have to live on and you want a 24 percent increase? I have never gotten a 24 percent increase in my life."
Township Council President James J. Byrnes blasted United Water for what he called "purely mismanagement." Byrnes said that municipalities and school boards are bound by state law to a two percent cap on budget increases each year.
"If I said 'Let's go for a 20 percent increase,' I wouldn't make it out of the room," he said.
Township Councilman John Bacchione said it was "probably the worst time" to consider any type of increase.
"To burden people with another increase does just not seem appropriate at this time," Bacchione said.
Township Councilwoman Judy Noonan represents Ward 4, which consists primarily of senior citizen communities on the western side of the township.
"People cannot afford another cent," Noonan said. "This is the worst time in Ocean County's history. You are asking them to pay more money that they don't have. Utility people should really stop and look at what you are doing to us. We cannot afford another penny."
Resident Angelo Guadagno recalled what his grandfather had taught him.
"You never kick someone when they are down," he said. "We are down. These great people in Berkeley Township are trying to stand back up. I'm tired of being kicked. If you can't make a profit, don't ask us to pay...this is a bad time for Berkeley Township due to everything that has happened to us."
Recent rate increase history
• March 2008 - United Water asks for a 90 percent increase. Berkeley officials fight to keep the average bill from jumping to $19.06 to $36.70 per month. United Water says the increase is needed to construct the Holly Water Treatment Plant in Toms River and the Berkeley Radionuclide Treatment Plant on Mule Road. The state Board of Public Utilities grants the company a 62.38 percent increase.
• November 2009 - United Water files a petition for a 37 percent increase. The reason for the increase? The costs associated with the Holly Water Treatment Plant and the Berkeley Radionuclide Treatment Plant.
• September 2012 - United Water files a petition for a nearly 24 percent rate increase. If granted, it would raise the average monthly bill to $47.10. Reasons cited by company officials include recent improvements like the Holly Water Treatment Plant and the Berkeley Radionuclide Treatment Plant.
"Here we are again," Amato said. "Today United Water wants a 24 percent increase. When is enough enough? Do we need three increases to do the same plants?"
Administrative Law Judge Elia Polios presided over the hearing, which was also attended by Stephen Genzer, an attorney for United Water, Edward Hyde, a representative from the BPU and Christine Juarez, from the state Division of Rate Counsel.
Resident Nancy Murphy said she works for a municipality where she frequently deals with senior citizens living on fixed incomes.
"Senior citizens are being pushed out of New Jersey to other states because they can't afford to live here," she said. "I don't have a money tree. I don't have T.V. I can't afford cable. I don't want to live in Florida. I don't want to go to another state. This is my state."
Several days of formal hearings on the rate increase are slated for the spring in Newark, Pelios said.