Select board to propose split on main break cost

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Waitsfield Select Board members will put together members’ individual suggestions on how to split the cost of the water main break with the water commission.

Those suggestions will be shared at the select board’s next meeting on September 25.

After a state contractor struck the water main in 2014, the select board sued the state of Vermont. After protracted litigation and mediation, the town agreed to accept $80,000 from the state. That left the town on the hook for $129,548. The select board and the water commission have been debating who should be responsible for the town’s share.

Water commissioners Robin Morris and Jack Himmelsbach met with the select board on Monday, September 11.

Morris opened their conversation by reiterating that the water commissioners do not believe that system users should be paying for the cost of the break because the water commission was not involved in the legal negotiations or settlement. Furthermore, he said that water users have been getting an unfair deal all along, because they are paying for a town asset from which every taxpayer benefits.

“The water commission believes that when the select board moved forward with the legal action, there was an understanding that this was water infrastructure, that it was a town asset that needed to be protected and actioned, but at no time was the water commission consulted or asked to take part in that legal action,” Morris said.

For that reason, Morris said that the water commission members do not feel that the commission should pay for the break, but commissioners did offer their entire emergency fund, $14,198.48, as a good faith contribution.

Morris asked the select board members to consider fairness when coming up with their decision. He said that the water users, about 100 residents, have been paying for the town’s fire suppression, including its operation and maintenance. The cost amounts to about $50,000 per year, Morris said.

All of the select board members agreed that the town has been enjoying a “free ride” in terms of fire suppression. However, fixing that issue will come at a later date.

In terms of the water main break, select board member Sal Spinosa explained that it was an oversight of past select boards and water commissions to omit including a catastrophic event clause into the water ordinance.

Spinosa and fellow select board member Kari Dolan also reiterated that when the water system was voted on, taxpayers understood that the costs of the system would be paid for solely by the users.

Each select board member agreed that the town and the water commission should split the cost, but as Spinosa stated, the cost to the water users will have to be more than the emergency reserve fund.

Board member Anne Bordonaro suggested that each select board member come up with their own ideas for the split and as a group they will create an offer to give to the water commission.

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This meeting was filmed by MRVTV and can be seen at MRVTV.com.