Our View: Water commission makes sense

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The agreement between the Steamboat Springs City Council and the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District to form a water and wastewater commission is a sensible idea if it isn't derailed in a dispute over commission appointees.

The commission is the brainchild of the water focus group, which was formed in January after voters rejected the proposed consolidation of the city and Mount Werner water districts.

After meeting for several months, it was clear to the focus group that another run at consolidation is not practical right now. Last fall's vote and a subsequent survey by Mount Werner made that obvious.

The water and wastewater commission -- which would act as an advisory board providing recommendations on policy and operational issues -- seems a logical and achievable step. As focus group member Bill Martin said, the commission could put into place a mechanism to begin dealing with the issues that have separated the city and Mount Werner Water District and prevented consolidation.

"There is a lack of confidence and perhaps mistrust on both sides," Martin said. "We want to walk before we can run. 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 toward greater efficiencies, we gain public confidence. Then, it is not that great of a leap to go toward an autonomous authority."

Martin's rationale is on target. But it won't happen if someone -- either the city or the Mount Werner Water District -- isn't willing to cede control of the commission at the outset.

The focus group -- comprised of three City Council appointees and four Mount Werner Water District appointees -- is divided over the makeup of the commission. Mount Werner representatives on the focus group suggested the commission be made up of four Mount Werner representatives, three city appointees and a City Council representative. Others argued there should be three Mount Werner appointees, three city appointees and a City Council representative.

We would suggest the latter, with this caveat -- the City Council representative would vote only in the event of a tie.

There is a complex history behind the city and Mount Werner water districts. The two entities' differences have been more than 30 years in the making, and only a handful of people truly understand them.

But whatever those differences are, they should be outweighed by what the entities have in common. The water districts share resources, and their customers are all residents of the same community who, for the most part, pay scant attention to the water district boundaries.

The proposed water commission is a chance for the city and Mount Werner water districts to move in the right direction, an important first step toward consolidation. What a shame it would be to see the same old power struggles keep that from happening.

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