Water and Wastewater Commission approved

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— The City Council and Mount Werner Water Board agreed Thursday to the creation of a Water and Wastewater Commission.

It is the first step in a path that could eventually lead to merging the city's water system with Mount Werner Water.

"Consolidation as a proposal under a charter amendment is probably not realistic in the near (future)," Mount Werner board member Tim Borden said. Voters' rejection of the city's water authority proposal last November, plus a poll Mount Werner took, made it clear the community is not ready for consolidation, he said.

Using the current members of the water focus group, the water commission would make recommendations to the two boards on operational and possibly policy issues. On their list of issues needing attention, the water focus group said they needed to look at the renewal of the 1980 Wastewater Agreement, water vendors, wellhead protection, security of the system, and a cooperative water agreement.

Water focus group member Bill Martin said forming a water commission is the most sensible next step in a process that could lead to consolidation.

"There is a lack of confidence and perhaps mistrust on both sides. We want to walk before we run," Martin said. "Today, to have an authority is a leap. In a water commission, we could gain community confidence in both the district and city side. As we work towards greater efficiencies, we gain public confidence, then it is not that great of leap to go toward an autonomous authority."

Councilman Paul Strong said the process is similar to the one the county and city are using to form an airport commission, which could eventually lead to an airport authority.

Mount Werner board president Don Valentine also supported the commission, saying the city needed a group focused solely on the management of its water and sewer system.

"It is not that we are any smarter or any more diligent. (The water and sewer system) is the only thing we have to do," Valentine said. "We do not have to worry about parks and rec. And, we try not to do planning. Our only interest is the water and sewer system."

Valentine, who has been with Mount Werner Water for 38 years, said it would help to have city representatives with long-term knowledge of the water system.

Debate remains on the make up of the board.

Some feel the commission should be comprised of three city-appointed members, one council member and four members appointed by the Mount Werner Water Board.

Others argued the board should not have the potential for a tie vote and should be made up of three city-appointed members, one council member and three members appointed by the Mount Werner Water Board.

Mount Werner Water Board member Joe Brennan said a water commission with four representatives from both sides would not be a problem.

"This is not a group that is going to vote one way or another. If we are not going to agree, we are not going to do it. It is not a power thing. If we don't agree this is the best thing for the community we are not moving forward," Brennan said.

Martin argued the board should have seven members and said both the council and Mount Werner Water Board could choose the City Council representative.

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