Bayonne made a tradeoff in 2012, bringing in the private equity firm Kohlberg, Kravis and Roberts in a 40-year partnership to finance an upgraded municipal water system and hiring SUEZ Water to operate it. The 80-year-old system was suffering from years of neglect, with John Ludington of SUEZ calling it “absolutely corroded.”
SUEZ spent $17 million — more than expected — upgrading the system, guaranteeing residents a clean, reliable water supply with modern meters that can detect leaks. But the price for that water has increased almost 28 percent since 2012, and that is causing problems for many in Bayonne. KKR is guaranteed a return on its investment, and last year alone, rates were increased 13 percent.
Sandra Richardson, a dog walker who was born in Bayonne, said her most recent bill was for $400 for three months. Gary La Pelusa, a councilman who opposed the deal with KKR, said the higher costs are especially tough for those on fixed incomes like the elderly and that some people now have liens on their homes because of unpaid water bills.
Many other older New Jersey towns and cities are in Bayonne’s situation with infrastructure that is now in critical condition. Daniel Van Abs, a member of the New Jersey Clean Water Council and a regular contributor to NJ Spotlight, said officials have to figure out how to protect low-income residents while paying for upgrades.
Read the full story on NJTV, a content partner of NJ Spotlight.