SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Selectmen last week filled the remaining two seats on the three-member Board of Trustees for the Southwest Harbor Water and Sewer District.
Following an executive session where seven applicants for the seats were considered, selectmen on Nov. 23 appointed Jim Geary and Jim Vekasi as trustees. Under the charter for the district, the town manager, in this case Don Lagrange, fills the third seat on the board. While the town manager doesn’t have to be a resident, the charter stipulates that the other trustees live in town.
Geary is vice-president and chief financial officer for the Maine Community Foundation. Vekasi was chief of maintenance at Acadia National Park.
Their appointment clears the way for the district to begin the process of closing down the town’s water and sewer departments and merging them into the district, a move approved 291-158 by voters on Nov. 3. That process is expected to begin mid-month, Lagrange said.
The first order of business is to elect officers, Lagrange said. From there, the trustees are to decide on matters as routine as setting up bank accounts and a mailing address to items requiring more consideration, such as developing personnel policies and job descriptions for employees and contracting with the town for administrative services.
Town officials maintain that the oversight of the trustees and day-to-day management of a superintendant would lead to efficiencies that would get the costs of running the utilities under control.
Steven Kenney was hired in October to be superintendent of the district.
During public hearings on the district that preceded the vote, officials said the town’s sewer department is almost $555,000 in the red. Funds have been borrowed from the town to keep the utility operating. Officials projected that, with the district, about $448,000 of that debt can be repaid within six years.
Rates for both utilities also are a concern. Southwest Harbor reportedly has the 34th highest water rate and the 16th highest sewer rate of the approximately 155 municipalities surveyed in Maine.
Another benefit of the district would be a focus on long-range planning to address the crumbling infrastructure of the two utilities, officials maintain.
According to Lagrange, current town employees working for the sewer and water departments are to be given notice that their jobs have been eliminated, and these people would receive priority when it comes to applying for jobs within the district. In the past, Lagrange has said that one of the current positions is to be eliminated.
Employees of the water and sewer departments are represented by the Teamsters union. Whether employees of the district would be members of a union is not known. Lagrange declined comment on the matter, saying he is not in a position to speak for the district, which hasn’t formally met. He did point out that town attorneys have said any current situation involving the water and sewer departments ends when the district begins.