Select board and water commission sign MOU

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The Waitsfield Select Board and the water commission have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that outlines how much Waitsfield taxpayers will pay toward the system and the split of the cost of a 2014 water main break.

The 2014 incident left the town with a $129,548 bill after the town took the state to court and then settled in mediation. Since that case was settled this spring, members of the select board and water commission have gone back and forth over who should pay for the town’s share.

Throughout the summer and fall, water commissioners and Waitsfield Select Board members negotiated a split to cover the cost of the 2014 water main break. The town of Waitsfield, through its general fund, will pay $74,835.80 and the water commissioners, through reserve accounts, will pay $40,496.20.

The MOU that the two groups signed on December 18 outlines more than just the cost share. Over the course of the negotiation, numerous issues arose that nearly all members of both boards agreed needed fixing.

Over the summer, water commissioners told the select board that water users in Waitsfield, about 100 residents, have been footing the bill for the town’s fire protection. The commissioners also claimed that the entire town benefitted from the added fire protection, especially residents living within the water service area, who are supposed to see lower insurance rates.

The members of the Waitsfield Select Board and the water commission estimated the additional cost of the fire protection, a larger pipe and tank, and a new route to be about $1.2 million. The two groups have agreed that the town will be charged 44 ERUs (equivalent residential units), or $35,200 per year. An ERU is based on wastewater capacity and one is roughly equivalent to a single-family home’s usage.

One ERU currently costs $800 per year with debt service and maintenance fees. However, with more users, costs will come down for everyone on the system. In the next year, the water commission will bring on two significant users, Lawson’s Brewery and, now, the town of Waitsfield.

The water commissioners estimate the new rates starting July 1, 2018, to be $655.

The MOU also sets up an emergency response task force made up of two water commissioners, two select board members and the town administrator. The water commissioners, throughout the discussions, bemoaned the fact that they had little say about how the 2014 water main break was handled. The task force will give the water commission a voice in the case of an emergency.