Fraser Sanitation District dissolution brings new challenges
November 5, 2009
Fraser Sanitation District voters decided 140-97 on Tuesday to dissolve the district and turn operations over to the town.
Now, the Town of Fraser has a little less than eight weeks to accomplish a laundry list of items required to absorb the district. Failing to meet this deadline could cost the town $100,000 said town manager Jeff Durbin.
Once the election results are certified, District Judge Mary Hoak will issue an order of dissolution stating an effective date and any other requirements.
“We are hoping for Dec. 31,” Durbin said. “There are a whole series of things that will cost the community a lot of money if this thing rolls into 2010.”
Among other things, the district would need a budget and another audit. There would be employee contract issues, insurance renewals and workers compensation issues.
“Even a couple days in January would cost us a lot of money,” Durbin said.
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“We have a lot of other things going on at this time of year, like the budgeting process,” Durbin said. “But, making this transition smooth and seamless is our number one priority.”
The town will be creating a new department and new positions and offering the district’s three current employees those positions, which “we hope they accept,” he said.
Whereas the district’s employees are currently responsible for both the wastewater collections system and operations at the plant, all three employees will now be exclusively in charge of plant management and operations, Durbin said.
The towns’ department of public works will dedicate an existing employee to deal with the wastewater collections system.
“We are hoping to make this transition smooth for them,” Durbin said. “The company you work for is disappearing and all the sudden you are working for a new company. That can be tough.”
The district’s two pickup trucks and other assets, including its bank accounts, will be transferred to the town. The town will be put on the title of the wastewater treatment plant and will sign a joint agreement with the two other sanitation districts that share ownership of the plant. The Fraser board of trustees must also convert and adopt into usable code all the district’s rules, regulations, wastewater standards and fee structure.
“It’s a lot of work, but we can make it happen, Durbin said.
Internally, the town will create two separate funds, one for wastewater collections and one for the wastewater plant. The money moving over from the district will be allocated directly into those two funds, Durbin said.
“If people are thinking that we are looking to dip into these funds for plowing street, they are wrong,” he said. All the money the town spends on wastewater collections, operations and management of the plant will come directly out of those funds,” he added.
The sanitation district holds about $2 million in reserves, according to Fraser Sanitation District Board Chairman Drew Matteson, who publicly opposed the dissolution.
“The whole thing is smoke and mirrors,” he said. “It’s about the money and the town wants to have it.”
But, Matteson added that he is glad the people had the opportunity to vote on this issue:
“The people have spoken, and I am very grateful that town allowed the people who pay the bill to make the decision.”
He said customers would be certain to see a rate increase as a direct result of this transfer: “The town already agreed to raise rates to accomplish this, and it will cost us all more for sewer. But, it’s the people’s money and they ought to choose how it’s spent.”
Durbin wasn’t clear on what, if any, rate increase are in store or when rates might be likely to increase. However, if the Town of Fraser assumes responsibility for the plant operations from the district, as expected, “It will add some costs to this process,” Durbin said.
Furthermore, there will be some impact on the costs of wastewater treatment for all three districts over time as new regulations take effect and the cost of living and insurance increases, Durbin said.
“But the property tax associated with that district [2.310 mills] will be going away,” Durbin said, adding that “it might have to picked up in the rates,” at some point down the road.
Durbin said the sanitation district’s proposed budget for next year anticipated at least a 3 percent increase in service fees.
The sanitation district board will dissolve when the transfer is complete, Durbin said, but the town plans to form a new water and wastewater committee and hopes to “appoint these folks to that committee in order to capture and maintain their knowledge and experience.”
Matteson said he would agree to serve on such a committee.
Durbin said the sanitation district’s customers won’t notice much change during the transition. They will call the same number and their bill will come from the same place. Ultimately, a different person may be responding to field calls, but that won’t be immediate, he said. Plus, the application process will be streamlined for builders and developers.
“The goal will still be to provide the best service to the community,” he said.
– Reid Armstrong can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610 or email@example.com.