EPPING — A warrant article asking voters if they want to dissolve the Water and Sewer Commission is part of a broader vision to bring the town into the 21st-century, according to the Epping Board of Selectmen.
While there were no public comments at Monday’s public hearing on the two water and sewer bond articles proposed for the March ballot, Selectman Chair Adam Munguia took the opportunity to explain why he wants to dissolve the commission, and how he plans to replace it.
The article reads, "To see if the town will vote to discontinue the Water and Sewer Commission and transfer to the Board of Selectmen all the authority to manage and control the water and sewer systems provided for under RSA chapter 149-1 and RSA chapter 38. This transfer of authority shall be effective on the date of the March 2020 Town Meeting."
The article was recommended by selectmen 3-2.
The effort to dissolve the Water and Sewer Commission is "part of an initiative to reorganize the way the town does business," Munguia told his colleagues and the television audience. "We need to start thinking about ourselves as a small city."
Munguia argued that the way the town operates now is out of "silos."
Dissolving the commission is phase one of a multi-phase program, according to Munguia.
Phase two would involve regrouping as a Public Works Commission, in order to monitor and better manage resources.
The board briefly considered a companion warrant article to hire an engineer to oversee communication between Public Works, Planning, Highway and Zoning. The article would have requested $120,000 for the staff position salary, but board members decided not to include it on the ballot. They want to wait to see what voters want to do with the Water and Sewer Commission.
Munguia argued for dissolving the commission in favor of a more integrated approach. Board member Tom Dwyer countered, "You wouldn't get rid of the Board of Selectmen just because you don't like the board members." He cautioned Munguia against dissolving the commission just because of the actions of previous commission members.
"But Water and Sewer is a cog in the town machine, and the cog is not working," Munguia countered. "The individuals aren't the point. Water and Sewer has never worked well with others."
Dwyer said one solution would be electing better Water and Sewer Commissioners.
"This doesn't have to be forever," Selectman Cody Belanger pointed out. "It could be a temporary thing while we get the problem fixed."
But Dwyer said the remedy isn't necessarily dissolving the Water and Sewer Commission. The town could take the $120,000 and hire an engineer to oversee and work with the current commission, he said.
Dwyer added that in his opinion, the Water and Sewer Commission was trying to work with selectmen. "In my first five years as a selectman, I never saw a Water and Sewer member sit before us," he said. "In the past six months, how many times have they come before us?"
But Munguia insisted it is a systemic problem. "Suppose you have a 1973 Pinto," he said. "If it works badly, it's not the fault of the driver. A 1973 Pinto is going to operate as a 1973 Pinto."'
Selectman Michael Yergeau, the current liaison to the Water and Sewer Commission, said, "We need a system where everyone talks to one another."
The board agreed to drop the personnel request and to keep their original vote on the dissolution of the commission.
The commission has had a bumpy road since member Roxana Chomas resigned in June, and culminating in Chairman Michael King's resignation this past December. Over seven months, the commission and the Board of Selectmen were at odds over budgeting and department structuring issues. The Water and Sewer Department is under an administrative order from the Environmental Protection Agency.