Water, sewer district change is proposed

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — The number of trustees on the board of the Southwest Harbor Water and Sewer District will go from three to five, pending approval by the Maine Legislature.

Selectmen on Tuesday approved seeking an amendment to the charter for the district that would increase the number of trustees.

State legislators must vote to approve any amendment before it could go into effect.

The quasi-municipal Southwest Harbor Water and Sewer District took control of the town’s water and sewer departments in January. Residents cleared the way for the move in November of last year when they voted 291-158 to adopt the charter for district. The Legislature approved the charter in June 2015.

In opening discussion about the proposed change, Town Manager Don Lagrange said the trustees by consensus have agreed to amend the charter to five members. The trustees, again by consensus, agreed that the town manager should continue to hold a position on the board, he said.

During meetings and public hearings that preceded the townspeople’s vote to adopt the charter, several people questioned why the document stipulated that the town manager be one of the three trustees. One concern was that the arrangement resulted in a conflict of interest, with the town manager representing both the town and the district.

At a selectmen’s meeting a week after the November vote, the board voted 3-1 to ask the Legislature to amend the charter to eliminate the town manager from holding a seat.

Due to the legislative schedule, that step was never taken. The vote by selectmen on Tuesday makes that issue moot.

Lagrange explained to selectmen that he felt it was important that he remain a trustee so the town has “direct representation on the board” especially because of significant costs on the horizon for upgrades to the infrastructure of the utilities.

Chad Terry, who was not a selectman at the time, was a vocal critic of the town manager being a trustee of the district. At the meeting Tuesday, he recused himself from discussing the matter as a selectman, citing conflict because he does business with the district. He did comment as a member of the public.

Terry said he feels that the trustees should be residents of the town because they would best represent the interests of taxpayers. Lagrange lives in Hancock.

“I don’t see where the town manager needs to be on the board as a voting member,” he said.

Selectman Lydia Goetze said she once felt the same way.

“I started out thinking, with three trustees, that the town manager should be an ex officio, but I don’t have that reservation with five on the board,” she said.

Another selectman, George Jellison, pointed out that it would be easier to ensure a quorum at meeting of the trustees with five members instead of three.

In a related matter, selectmen approved renting space in the municipal building to the district for use as an office. A small room, once used for meetings of the Board of Selectmen and various committees, will now provide a central location for the district and its customers. District manager Steve Kenney and an administrative assistant, who has not yet been hired, will use the office.

The district will pay $600 per month. The rent includes the use of the town’s printers, postage machine and other office equipment. The district is responsible for providing its own supplies.

“I see it as a service to the town,” Selectman Dan Norwood said.

Norwood and other selectmen were unsure if the $600 per month was sufficient. A motion to approve the rental at that rate through June 30 carried 5-0. Selectmen will monitor the situation to see if the monthly rent is adequate and consider changing the fee if needed.


Mark Good

Mark Good

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Mark Good

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