The Block Island Times

Budgets on the minds of the Sewer and Water commissions

Sewer lines in New Harbor will be cleaned and inspected
By Margie Bucheit | Apr 24, 2013
Source: File photo

Financial reports, continued mitigation for Hurricane Sandy damage, and illegal sewer connections were on the April 15 agenda of the joint New Shoreham Sewer and Water Commission meeting.

The commissions discussed whether they should put out a request for bids for financial services currently provided by the town, such as bookkeeping and utility billing. The town is currently proposing an increase of $40,000 to water and sewer district budgets to cover these financial services. Discussion both pro and con was forwarded to a future meeting, to be considered along with many budget needs for fiscal year 2014.

“The bottom line is that we are discussing this,” said Sewer Chair Peter McNerney.  “We are watching our pennies, our dimes, our nickels and then we see what we think.”

And with that financial issue in mind, the hours of Sewer and Water Clerk Janet Ziegler were reviewed, with questions being asked about how the job became full time. The position, now 40 hours a week, was formerly fewer hours. The commissioners asked probationary sewer Superintendent Chris Blane and probationary water Superintendent John Breunig if they had a breakdown of hours of how Ziegler uses her time. Breunig said that the clerk worked for both commissions. That time, he noted, is separate and apart from what Ziegler does for the individual sewer and water facilities. Discussion on this topic was also tabled to a future meeting. Commissioners asked the superintendents to measure the work of the clerk, and to allocate the hours between the departments and the commission.

The sewer and water clerk’s position, according to the job description,  “provides support for oversight and regulatory functions of the Sewer and Water District; provides administrative support to the water and sewer superintendents, including answering and processing of telephone requests for information and the taking of messages; keeps legal records, including those records exempt from public disclosure; and coordinates activities within the Town of New Shoreham in regards to Sewer District and Water District to outside government agencies and organizations.”

In addition, Ziegler must maintain working relationships with both superintendents, the sewer and water commissioners, the Town Manager, the Director of Finance, the Sewer and Water Engineer and the Town Clerk.

Also up for review was the currently interim position of sewer superintendent. Commissioners, pleased with the work done by Chris Blane, moved to make the position permanent in the next fiscal year. While commissioners wanted to increase the position’s salary, budget constraints prevented them from doing so. An affirmative vote successfully forwarded the suggested salary increase into the next fiscal period, as long as it does not conflict with accounting standards. The adjustment would be made retroactively.

Cleaning, inspecting sewer lines

The commission approved a project to clean and inspect the sewer lines in New Harbor, from West Side Road to Ocean Avenue to pump station number two. There was concern that the line might have been damaged or blocked by debris from Hurricane Sandy. Blane said it was imperative that the commission allow them to do this to prevent any possible disruptions in service during the summer.

The commission formally adopted a protocol of what to do if an illegal hook-up is discovered. An illegal hookup is an  unauthorized connection to the sewer system. It was decided that if the superintendent determines there is an unauthorized connection, he would first ask the owner to remediate it. The commission itself can also take actions. There can also be a fine. The commission can assess the fine and can request that the town solicitor investigate for “theft of municipal services.”

Billing Disputes

Champlin’s Marina is disputing the amount of a billing figured when their sewer meter failed in the summer of 2012. The Commission discussed ways to accurately provide an accounting for that billing.

Regarding the Island Home Inn on Beach Avenue, there was discussion about whether service to the building should be curtailed and how that should be handled, because bills have not been paid. Blake Filippi, attorney for the commissions, recommended a letter from the Sewer Commission be served to the owners of Island Home. Filippi said it was within the town’s rights to plug the sewer line to the house if the balance due is not paid. There was a question about whether bankruptcy would influence this decision. Filippi said he would research the issue and inform commissioners about his findings.

Water and Sewer Financial Report

Acting superintendent Breunig outlined costs for the commissioners in his report. A replacement pump was installed that he hopes will save money in the long run. He also noted a problem found in one line in the water yard, which needs to be exposed and possibly replaced.

Breunig also noted that Department of Health Division of Drinking Water Quality would hold a public hearing for a variance on the 400-foot requirement. Breunig also requested that new computers be added as a budget item for the Water Company for the next fiscal year.

In the sewer financials, Blane noted there was a savings in the electrical costs at the sewer plant itself. But he added that there was also a significant loss due to repairs costing more than $100,000 after a force main break at Ocean Avenue One pump station.

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