|District takeover by town in doubt|
|Written by Mark Lineberger|
|Friday, 18 January 2008 13:27|
The original agreement, signed in May, called for the town to pledge $2 million to help fund construction of a new sewer treatment plant.
In return, the town would gradually take over administrative duties of the district in advance of a measure that, if passed, would make the members of the sitting Town Council the members of the sanitary district board.
The plan has hit a few snags since the original agreement was signed.
The old agreement called for sanitary district employees to be technically on the town’s payroll to take advantage of the town employee benefits package.
Later problems and allegations led the town to fire some of the sanitary district employees; the others resigned in solidarity and all were rehired by the sanitary district.
The agreement also called for all sewer-related accounting and billing to be handled through the town.
Town Manager Michael Scannell, who came on board well after the original agreement was signed, told the sanitary district board last week that he didn’t believe the town was currently up to the task.
The sewer project is of utmost importance to the town, Scannell said, but in his opinion, the town doesn’t have the infrastructure in place just yet to handle that kind of workload.
The town has been trying to rework the agreement after months of stagnation in carrying out its terms.
Scannell said that while he’s confident the town would eventually be able to take on the responsibilities of running the sanitary district, to do so prematurely and fail would likely cause residents to vote against a town takeover.
“We have to demonstrate that everything is working well,” Scannell said. “At some point we will pass the test, but … at this point [the ballot measure] may not pass.”
Nothing is set in stone at the moment. The sanitary district has consistently argued that regardless of what the town wants, it is still obligated to fulfill the terms of the original agreement it signed.
While the district has expressed a willingness to negotiate with the town, CVSD Board Chariman Rob Witt said the district wants the town to pay for its employees’ benefits.
Beyond that, Witt said, if the town wants to redefine the agreement, the district board feels the town should also pay for a full-time sewer administrator, someone who would be able to take care of the billing and accounting functions the town doesn’t want to take on right now.
Regardless of what the town and district ultimately agree to, Scannell said that the town intends to live up to its financial obligations to the district.
The first check from the town was sent at the beginning of the month, Scannell said.
The renegotiations are set against a backdrop of mistrust between the public and the sanitary district board, highlighted by an acrimonious exchange last week between the board and members of a grassroots group angered by paying increasing taxes for a service they don’t receive.
The Saltmine Road Sewer Opposition Group, a group of residents angered by their rising bills, is looking for a lawyer to advise them where they stand and what they can do.
Many members of the group feel they are being stonewalled and misled by the district board; Witt said some members of the board feel they shouldn’t have to waste their time answering questions when they are just going to be accused of lying regardless of the answers they give.
After paying taxes to the district for more than three decades without receiving sewer service, members of the Saltmine group feel they have a right to have all their questions and concerns about the operations of the district answered in detail.
The next regular meeting of the Camp Verde Sanitary District is scheduled for 1 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 13