Water commissioner addresses issues

WILTON – While officials agree the Water Commission is a separate entity – chartered by the state Legislature in 1905, and authorized to use its town-owned equipment as it sees fit to run the department – there is still a degree of animosity over how it operates.

On Monday, May 8, commission Chairman Tom Schultz met with the Board of Selectmen and town administrator to comment on what was said at last week’s board meeting. Since he couldn’t obtain a copy of the minutes of that meeting, he said, “I have to rely on an article in the newspaper.”

Schultz said he came “in a nonconfrontational way to address some issues.”

One of the issues that was brought up at the selectmen’s meeting, he said, was that “the commissioners voted unanimously” to allow the department’s superintendent, Michael Bergeron, to take the commission’s new truck home to Greenville at night.

Commissioners in addition to Schultz are Selectman Kermit Williams and Frank Edelblut.

There were two reasons for the vote, Schultz said: “First, so it will be available for emergencies, and second, the town has no place to keep it. We didn’t think the town would like it left parked beside the road.”

The truck was leased, Schultz said, after a “lot of correspondence with the town administrator.” The town needed to replace its old truck immediately because it didn’t pass inspection.

He added that the truck, like all water department expenses, “are paid for by the users,” and not by taxpayer funds directly.

“And 13 percent of those users are in (the Pine Valley section) of Milford, as provided in the original charter because those users are across the river from the Milford water system,” he said.

To back up his points, Schultz provided an opinion from the Attorney General’s Office in 1935 that states, “The selectmen don’t authorize payments by the water commission, the commission does, although the town treasurer has custody of all money.”

As to who owns what, Schultz presented a letter from the town’s attorney in 2011 that agreed with the one from 1935.

“We are willing to pursue this again,” Schultz said, “but we feel it is a waste of money.”

Town Treasurer Jerry Greene noted that “the Water Department itself is owned by the town of Wilton, even if the department controls it. The commission still answers to the town in some way.”

Selectmen’s Chairman Bill Condra pointed out the commission’s authority over its equipment.

“The town may own the stuff,” he said, “but the commission has the authority to use it. I think we are all in agreement on that.”

Williams said he didn’t think the commission is a “unique” entity.

“While I agree with Mr. Schultz on some things, I disagree that the department is something unique,” he said. “The charter covers a portion of Milford, but Milford folks don’t get to vote for commissioners. They’re just guest customers, so to speak. I believe the commission is part of the town and the equipment is owned by the town of Wilton. The commission cannot put a lien on property (for unpaid bills), they can only ask that one be placed through the tax process.”

It was agreed that the commission was authorized to make needed expenditures without asking the selectmen.

Schultz also brought up the issue of a problem with a required backflow device at the Recycling Center that hadn’t been addressed.

“It is still submerged after being brought to the manager’s attention a year ago,” said Schultz, who presented pictures of the device taken last Friday.

Public Works Director Steve Elliott said the problem would be taken care of.

“When I was on the commission, we relied on the superintendent” to take care of such things, he said.

“There is no reason to make a legal case out of this,” Williams said. “We’ll arrange to get it done.”

Greene wasn’t satisfied that the issue was settled, and called Schultz’s comments “veiled threats to the town,” but Condra closed the discussion.