EDISON – With 27 years of public and private sector experience in water distribution and wastewater collection and treatment, township officials believe that Robert J. Smith is the right person to take the helm of the newly created department to manage and maintain water mains in Edison.
“He possesses the professional administrative, managerial and budgetary credentials that our township needs to provide quality service to our residential and commercial water and sewer customers,” Mayor Thomas Lankey said.
The Edison Township Council approved a four-year contract for Smith, a resident of Newton, with an annual salary of $170,000 at a council meeting on Nov. 13.
Smith was hired and the Water/Sewer Utility was created to comply with the September referendum, at which voters decided the township should resume management and operation of its south Edison water system after 22 years.
The township had been proposing a $811.3 million, 40-year, public-private partnership to lease the township’s sewer system and part of its drinking water system to Suez North America and the Wall Street private equity firm KKR before the referendum.
Some 10,511 out of 59,000 registered voters came out to the polls or voted by mail on Sept. 10.
With a resounding 8,874 “yes” votes over 1,637 “no” votes, the new department will serve 12,000 residential and commercial customers in south Edison, according to officials.
Smith, who has a state-issued W-3 operator’s license, began the role on Nov. 18, managing the utility’s day-to-day operation and personnel, and supervising maintenance for the municipal water and sewer systems.
Most recently, Smith served as superintendent for Hoboken’s newly-created city water utility and, previously, he was director of Sayreville’s water and sewer utilities.
The Township Council also approved a $15 million bond issue at the meeting to pay start-up costs for the utility, including the purchase of equipment, tools, vehicles, water meters, computers and software.
In 1997, Edison entered into a contract with New Jersey American Water to operate and manage its water system. In 2017, the township amended the contract, which ended that year, and extended it for two years so options could be considered, including the benefits of private operation of both the water and sewer systems.
Officials said New Jersey American Water wanted to buy the township’s water system, in which officials were not interested due to loss of control. In early June, New Jersey American Water agreed to extend its contract to operate and provide water service to South Edison until Dec. 31.
The township has discussed options to either maintain, lease or sell the operation and maintenance of the water and sewer systems in the township.
Currently, Edison owns its own water distribution system and operates its own municipal sewer utility, serving the entire town. The township serves approximately 12,000 water customers and 26,000 sewer customers, both residential and commercial.