City Council President Kathy Connell talks about the consolidation of Mount Werner Water and the city's water department, which residents will vote on Aug. 13.
Q. From your perspective, what are the advantages of a merger between the city's water department and Mount Werner Water? Are there any disadvantages?
A. We believe that at this point, we've eliminated any potential disadvantages through the frank and open discussions we've held over the past several months. Both entities had concerns about their customers, their facilities and their ability to provide for the future needs of the community. We both now believe those concerns have been addressed and that the new water authority will be capable of concentrating on our water and wastewater needs for the foreseeable future. In doing so, the authority will have the distinct advantages of a focused plan. Concentrated expertise, combined assets and unified staffs with many years of experience in the field.
Q. The merger is something that has been talked about for years but did not get done. What were the hang-ups in getting to this point?
A. I've said it time and again we could do great things if we took our personalities out of it. That's exactly what we did in this round of negotiations. We focused on the specific issues to be discussed or understood and resolved issues if necessary. The only personality in the equation was the common goal to better understand each entity's concerns, perspective and questions. The real issues of how each operation functions and the future needs of their constituents could then be discussed. We continued to focus on the facts, information gathering and understanding of that information so we could then explore how the services could be combined.
Q. Obviously, a merger between the water districts should result in efficiencies, including fewer personnel. But you have said the merger can be accomplished without anyone losing a job. How is this going to work?
A. We've never said the consolidation would absolutely result in fewer personnel because we just don't know yet what it will take to operate the combined entities at the level the authority will want. What we have tried very hard to do is to begin looking at what facilities and equipment the authority will have and how many people of various skills it will take to operate all of that. We have also stated that all of the employees who move to the new authority must receive every consideration toward maintaining their salaries, benefits and working conditions. The efficiencies you have read about don't involve personnel so much as they do facilities, equipment, streamlined procedures and planning for combined operations.
Q. Those involved in negotiating the merger have said water rates will not change initially. Explain why that is and also what you expect to happen to water rates over the long term if the merger is approved.
A. Right now, each entity has water and wastewater rates that are calculated to pay that entity's expenses. Mount Werner Water's expenses are different from the city's and the city's wastewater expenses are different from Mount Werner's. To go to uniform water and wastewater rates on the effective date of the consolidation would not be fair to customers of either entity. Both sides agreed the authority would need a year or two to assess its combined revenues and expenses and to conduct a rate study to determine what changes, if any, are needed.
Q. What happens if voters don't support the merger?
A. Well, we have survived separately until now, and we can survive separately in the future. But we're interested in flourishing, not just surviving, and we believe the voters of both entities will see the advantage of a combined utility that can plan for and provide the highest-quality water and wastewater services for the community.