BERLIN — Town officials and the leadership of the two public water districts not under municipal control are looking at possibly collaborating on projects or combining entirely.
“I don't think any town in Connecticut has three water districts that operate like ours do,” said Mayor Mark Kaczynski, who believes the council would support the town’s water department absorbing the other two public water districts, Worthington Fire Water District, centered around the turnpike, and Kensington Fire Water District.
Since the three are independent, they each incur their own legal, billing, administrative and engineering expenses. In a report he wrote on the subject, Ray Jarema, superintendent of the Berlin Water Control Commission, said water could be delivered to all of Berlin for as much as $1 million less by merging the three, although the savings could be less if BWCC has to take on additional employees.
The council has yet to meet with the committees overseeing Worthington and Kensington, boards that are elected by residents of the districts, but Kaczynski hopes discussions can begin this winter. Leaders of the three districts began meeting on a quarterly basis last year and a second meeting is expected in the coming weeks after it was canceled due to improper notice on Jan. 3.
Both Jarema and Joseph Pagliaruli, chairman of Kensington’s committee and superintendent of Worthington, claim their respective departments are the cheapest and should absorb the other. While the BWCC’s rate of $4.15 per 100 cubic feet of water is higher than Kensington’s $2.89 or Worthington’s $3.24, the other districs also charge a mill rate on customers’ property. Kensington’s rate is 1.1 mills, while Worthington’s is 2.0.
Jarema pointed out that means upgrades to one’s home or revaluations could cause the water bill to increase even without increasing usage. He estimated his own $622 water bill as a Worthington customer would have been around $300 under the BWCC and $500 in Kensington.
Even factoring in the mill rate, Pagliaruli claimed a study Kensington commissioned found it to be the cheapest in town, although he did not provide a copy to the Record-Journal. Pagliaruli said that it would be in the best interest of Berlin residents for Kensington to incorporate the BWCC and Worthington.
Such a move would require a revision of the town charter’s mandate for a town-operated water district, a prospect Kaczynski said is unlikely and not one which the council is currently considering.
Arthur Powers, chairman of Worthington’s committee, said it’s still too early in the discussions to share his own views, but “whatever’s going to be done will be done in the best interest of the town.”
Even if the three don’t consolidate, Jarema said there could be cost savings if they collaborated on projects. Having one contract for all the repairs or relinings in town would be cheaper than each district putting out its own request for bids, for example.
“If we’re going to operate independently we should at least operate efficiently,” he said. After the districts declined to work with the town to reline sewers around 2012, Jarema also became concerned that they could be neglecting to necessary maintenance.
“We have a five-year capital improvement plan and we’ve expanded it to 10 … and I’m not sure it’s done equally with the other 2 districts,” he said. “My biggest fear is that, also as a Berlin resident, is that they extract everything they can from these two companies and they let them go belly up and the town has to pick up the pot.”
Read more articles like this and help support local journalism by subscribing to the Record Journal.
Unlimited Digital Access just 99¢
Read more articles like this by subscribing to the Record Journal.
Unlimited Digital Access for just 99¢