By now, many Belleville Water Customers have received their most recent water bill. Whether you are a residential or commercial customer, that bill reflects a recent increase to our water rates. Several Council Meetings ago, after consideration and at the urging of our financial professionals, the Mayor/Council voted unanimously to increase water rates. As the first round of commercial water bills were issued, I wrote a letter of explanation, which can be found on my Mayor’s website, www.MelhamforBelleville.com. That letter explains and justifies exactly why we were forced to make this difficult decision.
By way of background... Most know at this point that Belleville has a contract to purchase our water from the City of Newark. While Newark’s sale rate to Belleville often ticks up gradually, for some reason Belleville had not raised rates since 2012. In my opinion, this inaction was a major disservice to the public. This lack of oversight and management left Belleville’s Water Utility running a deficit for years. Next, we have been out of contract with the City of Newark since 2016. I have no idea why the prior Administration let it lapse, but the end result is a huge outstanding balance. Why? Basically, the Township has been paying the 2016 rate for the past four years. While my administration has been working on the renewal, in order to bring the contract current, we must pay the City of Newark $1.6Million, representing the four year difference from the 2016 rate to the 2020 rate.
Back to the here and now. I stand 100% behind the facts and figures contained in my rate increase letter, however, after several meetings in Town Hall last week, I now question the data our professionals used to calculate the new increase and the estimated projected revenue it would generate. I do not believe our financial team had all the data needed, or for that matter, the correct data needed to make the recommendation on the amount of rate increase for Council consideration. In addition, we increased commercial rates by 300%, but at no point, did we even know how many commercial properties we have. Therefore, how can we in good conscious anticipate the revenue???
Again, while I understand why we need to raise the rates, I have lost faith that the analysis performed to strike the new, higher rates, was performed correctly.
In my opinion, the new rates, correctly separate residential and commercial. After all, must utilities, including PSEG charge different rates for residential and commercial customers. The problem as I see it is that our new rates were merely backed into in an attempt to meet both our outstanding $1.6M obligation to Newark and to, at a minimum, cover the cost of the current rate the City of Newark charges the Township.
Here’s the good news. I believe the Township’s financial professionals drastically underestimated the number of commercial properties within the Township. And since Commercial properties pay more for water, as they often use our water to generate a profit unlike residential users, if you have 6, 8 or 10x’s more commercial users than originally expected, you will generate that multiple in extra, additional projected revenue. This means, the new rate recently struck by the Council, can and should now be reconsidered and reduced.
To that end, I plan on putting for a resolution on the next Council Meeting directing the Manager to revisit how the increases were calculated to determine if they needed to be raised as high as they were raised. I for one, have seen enough data to concluded they can be lowered. As Water Bills come out, I plan on paying mine, with the hopes of eventually seeing a credit on a future bill.
Dear Belleville Water Purchaser:
Since taking office in July, 2018, the Council and I have steadily been working to cure some of the long term problems that have plagued Belleville. I’m happy to report that collectively, we have made a lot of progress. Some of that progress has included hiring a full-time CFO, which we haven’t had for years, and for the first time in decades, a full-time, outside, professional Township Manager. Some may think these two positions would be staples in a Township the size of Belleville, but for many years, they were not. Because of our decisions the Township now has a professional team ‘watching the store.’
Which leads me to this quarter’s Water Bill. Recently the Township Council voted to increase water fees. Why? Because as you may or may not know, Belleville has a contract to purchase water from the City of Newark. That contract, which has been expired since 2015 gradually ticks up the rate the City of Newark charges Belleville. The problem was, Belleville, had not changed our water fees since 2012, which left our Water Utility running a deficit year after year. Clearly a private business buying a product for X and reselling would never be sustainable if and when the cost to purchase the product far surpasses the fee you resell it for. Well, this is exactly what has happened over the past six years.
Furthermore, while the Township has run a loss, for six years, meaning we pay the City of Newark more than what we collect in water bills, we have also been out of contract for many years. This means, that we currently owe and have already begun to pay back the City of Newark $1.6M in back water payments.
In 2.5 years, we have accomplished a lot. However, we are still tackling several issues from the past. Thankfully, I am confident in the team we have in place. I believe collectively my Council colleagues and I are righting the ship and providing a good, solid foundation for Belleville to move forward.
Michael A. Melham, Mayor
Township of Belleville
View Official Letter Here
2:20 How would I describe the first two years?
5:35 Biggest Accomplishments: The Team I've built.
11:34 Covid19, Budget, Lawsuits & $1.6M owed to Newark for back water charges
19:10 The Team: Township Manager
23:50 Lead in the Water
28:30 Lead Line Replacement
34:20 Area in need of Rehabilitation/Redevelopment, PILOTS & Using Developer money for an Indoor Turf Facility?
46:42 New Program: Free Money for Home Improvements
48:08 Development Updates
52:50 Turf Facilities, Municipal Stadium Complex at the HS, Newark Reservoir as a Park!
1:02:50 Recreation Fees & Feeder Program
1:12:34 Health Benefits
1:20:25 Post Office
1:25:18 Covid19 Masks
1:30:26 What else can we expect?
Normally I would be too embarrassed to showcase such awfulness in our community, especially in light of so much positivity. However, in this case, I believe then ends justify the means because residents deserve to know, especially just before an election, exactly how an elected official, a current BOE Trustee, speaks, in his own words, to fellow humans, colleagues, women and those not born in this Country.
Now that I have obtained the complete email thread, it is posted below. I must plead with anyone who has already viewed the entire thread on Mr. Sheldon's FB page to delete the file and not share. Mr. Sheldon more than likely broke another law by publishing privileged content. The email thread linked below is a file which contains redactions provided by the District.
I remain shocked that this man would receive the endorsement of the Belleville Teacher's Union, who have already paid for a mailer and his lawn signs. Perhaps, they will reconsider.
April 2019, UPDATE
We have reached an out of court settlements with Mr. Raymond Kimble for an undisclosed financial amount. The below information has been in the public domain since before we knew the identities of the involved individuals. All below information remains as is, untouched since April, 2019.
WHAT? HOW? WHY? WHEN?
These are questions that are often asked when it is learned that a revaluation is to be undertaken in a municipality. An understanding of why a revaluation is undertaken; how it will be accomplished; and what does an increase in assessments mean are questions that should be addressed. Many misconceptions associated with a revaluation can be dispelled if taxpayers are properly informed. Sound assessment administration depends on the understanding and support of a revaluation program.
REVALUATION QUESTIONS WITH ANSWERS
WHAT IS A REVALUATION?
A revaluation is a program undertaken by a municipality to appraise all real property within the taxing district according to its full and fair value.
WHAT IS MEANT BY FULL AND FAIR VALUE?
Full and fair value is the price at which the tax assessor believes a property would sell at a fair and bona fide sale by a private contract on October 1 of the pretax year. The sale must be between a willing buyer and a willing seller. For example, the buyer is not obligated to buy, and the seller is not obligated to sell.
WHY IS THERE A NEED FOR A REVALUATION?
A revaluation program seeks to spread the tax burden equitably within a municipality. Real property must be assessed at the same standard of value to ensure that every property owner is paying his or her fair share of the property tax.
For example, two properties having essentially the same market value should be paying essentially the same amount in property taxes. Inequitable assessments result from the following situations:
- Changes is characteristics in areas or neighborhoods within the municipality and within individual properties;
- Fluctuations in the economy (inflation, recession);
- Changes in style and custom (desirability of architecture, size of house);
- Changes in zoning which can either enhance or adversely effect value;
- Delays in processing building permits which delay tax assessments on new construction.
WHAT HAS TO BE DONE DURING A REVALUATION PROGRAM?
Both the interior and exterior of each property are usually physically inspected, and building dimensions are noted during the revaluation process. In addition, recent sales of properties are studied and may be adjusted to estimate the value of property that has not been sold. Property typically purchased for investment purposes is analyzed in terms of its income-producing capability. In
short, all information believed to have an influence on value will be gathered, reviewed and analyzed in order to make a proper determination of each property's full and fair value.
I’m not sure which is worse, the fact that the PVSC has the audacity to brag about this scam or the fact that they tout the ‘rebates’ they ‘give back’ to the Township as something beneficial. SMH.
I have first-hand experience with this shake down scam. Here’s how the hustle works... Unsuspecting property owners, both residential and commercial, receive Zoning or Planning Board approvals (if required) for a project. Then it’s off to the Building / Construction Code Department to submit the plans for review. Eventually a permit fee is calculated, and permits are ready for pick up. Totally normal, right? Indeed. Usually at this point, the unsuspecting owner orders materials, schedules contractors and is ready to begin work. That is up until you head into the Building / Construction Code Department to pick up the permits and you’re told you cannot have them until you pay a ‘Sewer Connection Fee’ to the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission (PVSC). Please understand, the ‘Sewer Connection Fee’ is a phony, made up fee that has nothing, zero to do with a sewer connection.
Most of you know that I own the building next to Town Hall. Most of you also know I received unanimous Planning Board approval for my variance, was issued permits from the Building / Construction Code Department, and was actively under construction for months. This was before the Township shut down my construction project with an illegal Police Department Order, which still stands today. However, I dealt with this exact issue with the PVSC prior to receiving my permits. I was informed by the Building / Construction Code Department that I could NOT have my permits until I paid a ‘Sewer Connection Fee’ to PVSC. Not sure yet what was going on, I asked how much this "fee" was. I was informed that the calculated fee was approximately $19,000. $19,000! - Keep in mind, my building already had a sewer connection, and even if it was new construction, the PVSC does not perform the physical connection. Additionally, if it was new construction, any increase in sewerage going to PVSC is then billed to the Township and the Township passes the ongoing charges to the property owner via a legitimate sewer fee, just like your water bill. At the time, I spoke directly to the Director of the PVSC. I asked him if my building already had a sewer line, which was already connected to the sewer main and absolutely no physical connection or re-connection was needed, why I was being charged $19,000 for a ‘Sewer Connection Fee.’ Keep in mind, if I had to connect or re-connect to the sewer, PVSC doesn’t even do it. While my building might produce additional sewage, PVSC charges Belleville for the extra flow and Belleville charges the property owner. In the end, I changed my drawings and the fee was substantially reduced. I did this just to attain my permits, but I vowed to one day circle back and revisit this ruse. Please know, the Township and the Building / Construction Code Department has very little to say about this. This is a PVSC tactic that they force upon their member municipalities, which is then forced down the throats of individuals trying to make improvements to their property.
In more ways than one, this woman is single handedly restoring my faith...
From the beginning of this journey, which for me began 13 months ago, I was adamant and steadfast that I wanted a well-rounded ticket. I wanted a ticket that represented Belleville. I wanted a ticket that united and not divided. I wanted at ticket that looked to Belleville’s future, not dwelled in its past. To that end, I had the profound privilege of interviewing several candidates as my running mates for the Council-At-Large position. All were great, and all will bring their unique perspectives and backgrounds to the campaign. I am grateful to them for continuing their hard work for the campaign. This movement will not end on May 8th, but shall proceed with their continued involvement. However, for this specific election, I could only choose two running mates. Therefore, one last additional candidate.
I have taken the time to get to know this candidate. I’ve spent hours with her and her husband Allen. I’ve met her immediate and extended family. I’ve met her friends and trusted confidants. The entire time, I was an open book. I was honest and even vulnerable. We share very similar qualities and characteristics. I completely relate to her. I know where she comes from because I come from the same place. She also has deep roots in everything that I value, everything I hold dear.
The funny thing is, although it took a while, I eventually realized that I wasn’t vetting her, she was vetting me. She wasn’t going blindly or alone into this decision. That’s the type of woman she is, that’s the type of inner circle she surrounds herself with, and that’s something I absolutely respect.
So, without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to the woman, who one day I will be proud to say I had a hand in thrusting into government. Belleville’s next Councilwoman, Mrs. Naomy De Pena.
A little about Naomy…
Naomy is a wife, mother, daughter, former educator and entrepreneurial minded business owner. Beyond that, she has been a Belleville homeowner for nearly ten years. Growing up in the Dominican Republic, her family’s Belleville roots extend more than two decades, which includes her spending summers in Belleville.
An educator with more than 15 years of experience working with children with autism and learning disabilities, she holds a degree in Special Education from NJCU with a concentration in Psychology. Prior to focusing on her flourishing ‘after-care’ business, she served as a translator and advocate for children with special needs in the Belleville Public Schools. She is also a former member of Bvote and a Belleville school teacher union representative, where she’s used her strong voice to be an advocate for teachers and students.
The daughter of a Pastor and the sister of a Jersey City BOE Trustee, who is also a Pastor, she is no stranger to public service. As a Missions Coordinator, she led many humanitarian efforts bringing medical teams to Mexico, Haiti, Ecuador & the Dominican Republic.
Naomy too believes in a #BetterBelleville and a more welcoming Belleville for all our residents. Tommy and I look forward to collectively working with Naomy toward that goal.
#BetterBelleville #MayMatters #SilentMajorityNoMore #WeAreBelleville #ThisIsBelleville #WeHaveaDeepBench #TurningThePage#YoungBelleville #NewMeetsOldBelleville #ShesTough
October 18, 2017
For Immediate Release
Contact: (973) 844-1124
(Belleville, NJ) “Because I believe in a better Belleville!” And with those words, Michael A. Melham, a former Belleville Councilman, 2000-2004, formally declared his candidacy for Mayor in Belleville’s non-partisan, May 2018 municipal elections.
Standing before a faithful crowd, organized as a ‘Candidacy Declaration Party,’ Melham confidently walked through the door he admittedly left open some 13 years ago when he decided not to seek re-election, stating at that time, “Who knows, maybe one day I’ll return.”
Melham, 42, has been busy in the 13 years since he left public office. As an entrepreneur, his Belleville based company, AlphaDog, currently holds 20+ government contracts for municipal communications, and builds campaign and election software. Melham also travels as a public speaker at national conferences including the National Association of Government Web Professionals. His passion for public spaces has also led Melham to pursue a Master’s in City & Regional Planning. With multiple real estate holdings throughout the Township, Melham openly discussed one particular issue which re-ignited his interest in public office; his 6,000 sq/ft commercial building, adjacent to Town Hall, located in the heart of Belleville’s main thoroughfare, Washington Avenue. The building remains unfinished and deteriorating, which Melham asserts is due to political retaliation. The Township has prevented him from accessing the property and thus completing it.
In 2015, Melham was forced to file a federal lawsuit against the Township, which, in part, alleged the Township Manager was holding his position illegally. As a result of the evidence presented, multiple government agencies immediately stepped in and asked for the Manager’s resignation, which was reluctantly provided.
“They say you can’t fight City Hall. I not only fought City Hall, but took on the Township Manager, Township Attorney and several members of the governing body at the same time, and so far, I’ve won! I plan on using that same vigor to fight for every taxpayer and resident who feels they don’t have a voice. I will stand up for them, the same way I stood up for myself” Melham stated.
One the of focal points of Melham’s campaign is the revitalization of Washington Avenue. “My building is literally a microcosm of everything wrong with Belleville. From the lack of leadership and vision, to old-school mindsets, to the way current elected officials use their positions to settle personal and political vendettas. It’s over. I believe in a Better Belleville, that’s why I want to be Mayor!” Melham concluded.