SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Voters here decided two local issues Tuesday, giving approval to the creation of a water and sewer district while rejecting a proposal to buy property near the Manset Town Dock for use as a parking lot.
The merging of the town’s water and sewer departments into the Southwest Harbor Water and Sewer District met approval in a 291-158 vote.
A related question, whether to transfer the assets of the water and sewer departments to the district, carried in a 288-157 vote.
Voters 245-203 turned down the purchase of the Knote property on the Shore Road for $600,000.
In public hearings prior to Election Day, town officials argued that a water and sewer district would lead to efficiencies that will get the costs of running the water and sewer departments under control and better address issues with the aging infrastructures of the two departments. This would come about through the oversight of the district by a three-member board of trustees and a superintendent.
Now that voters have approved the district, town officials must make some decisions before the district is functional.
The first step, according to Town Manager Don Lagrange, is to find trustees for the three-member board. Only two seats are open; under the charter for the district, the town manager is one of the trustees. A superintendent already has been hired.
Lagrange said he expects the trustee issue to be discussed Tuesday at a selectmen’s meeting.
Legal transfer of the assets and liabilities of the water and sewer departments to the district also must be done, Lagrange said.
At some point, town employees working for the water and sewer departments will receive a two-week notice that their jobs have been eliminated, Lagrange said. These employees can then apply for jobs in the district.
“We will rehire in the district as needed,” Lagrange said. Staffing needs have not been decided, he explained. At one of the public hearings, Lagrange said one position would be cut.
George Jellison, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said he is happy with the outcome of the water and sewer district vote but thinks voters erred in turning down the Knote property purchase.
“I think we may have missed an opportunity there,” he said.
“The harbor is the economic engine of Southwest Harbor,” he said. “It won’t be able to support growth without parking.”
During the recent public hearings, some residents claimed the town has not done enough to pursue buying the Hook lot that abuts the Manset dock property. The town leases the lot on an annual basis for use by people using the dock. The town has made several attempts to contact the owners to see if they would sell the property but never has received a reply.
With the Knote property off the table, Lagrange said the town would renew exploring the possibility of buying the Hook lot. A major concern is that the owners could decide not to renew the annual lease. If that was to happen, “there goes the Manset pier,” Lagrange said.
Pursuing the purchase of the Hook property also is important to Jellison. But that might not be the solution some residents think it would be.
“Even if we bought the lot, we’re still going to have issues for parking,” he said.