News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, April 4, 2013
Evelyn Duncan suggests outsourcing Stonington Water Company

by Alice Wilkinson

A Stonington Water Company meeting on April 1 left the Stonington Selectmen unsure of whether Roger Stone, water company superintendent, had actually resigned. As of press time, the question remains unanswered.

The meeting began with a review of questions raised at the March 11 meeting, to which Stone had supplied written answers at the March 18 meeting.

In the first order of business the selectmen who also serve as the water company board voted to “un-table” the response sheet as Stone passed out copies.

The first complaint had been that operator reports were not on past agendas; Selectman Evelyn Duncan reiterated the complaint, and said that reports should be on future agendas. There was no operator report on the agenda that the selectmen had in front of them.

Duncan then said that having studied the report distributed by Olver Associates at the March 18 meeting, she had even more questions. She said she had been in touch with Olver about the possibility of grants and loans, and their ability to help the Stonington Water Company apply for them. She reported that according to Mandy Olver, who handles grant applications for Olver Associates, there is money available. She added that engineering grants have been around for a while.

After discussion of the various issues, Water Company president Donna Brewer moved to have an executive session for contract talks. Stone handed her a copy of the Maine Revised Statutes, requesting an open session.

Selectman Chris Betts pointed out that Stone had a right to an open meeting, and added that open meetings for labor discussions have to be agreed on by both parties.

Brewer replied, “I think we need to talk about the contract.”

Duncan added, “If Roger wants to continue…I’ve given this a tremendous amount of thought…Many of the things we found out about [in Olver’s report] have been mentioned in some of the classes you [Stone] have attended. …We need to get a better handle on chlorine…We need to be pro-active rather than reactive.

“In my opinion the water company is in trouble. We’re not moving forward. In my opinion we should hire Olver to run the system and they use their own employees. In my mind, there’s no contract [to discuss],” Duncan continued.

Betts asked how much Olver would charge, and Duncan said $80,000 for one year, “which would mean we would have to go for a rate increase…to get us out of this mess.” Olver runs the Castine water company, and the Blue Hill sewer system.

Selectman Richard Larrabee dissented. “I understand Olver could come on and run this water company…and you’re going for an increase. Once they get the money, you never get it back.” He explained that rates go up, but never go down.

Brewer asked if any of the board would agree to oversight by Olver. “My thought is we’re in a mess,” she said. “We’ve got some serious issues. We were here for a whole meeting and weren’t told about chlorination [by Stone] until someone brought it up.

“I’ve lost confidence. I don’t want to do business as usual. I’m not comfortable. Our heads are on the chopping block. I don’t know what you want to do.”

“I have another way to check the chlorine residuals,” Stone answered. “I called you this morning. What was I supposed to do? Call every member of the board?”

“You should have brought it up at the meeting,” Brewer replied.

Duncan focused again on Olver’s report. “We can’t just go on without fixing anything, or replacing any meters. I haven’t seen a bill for meters. If I were you Roger, after I read this report from Olver, I would have called them and then said how am I going to fix things, what should I do to fix this?”

“I think the world of you,” Betts began, “but I think it’s time to retire.”

“I think I’m going to resign tonight. I’ve got other things to do and I’m going to go do them,” Stone answered.

“You’ve been here for a long time,” Betts continued.

“39 and a half years.”

Speaking along the same lines, Larrabee said, “I’m going to feel sorry to see you go. I think you’ve done the water company and the town a great service.”

The board adjourned the meeting, but too soon to finish its business.

Brewer asked if they needed a motion to accept Stone’s resignation, to which he said, “you’ve adjourned.”

Confused by the turn of events, Brewer asked Stone, “Did you say you were resigning?”

“I’ll write up the minutes and hand in my resignation tomorrow,” he answered. As of press time, the town office has not recieved a letter of resignation from Stone.

As they digested this information the selectmen began their selectmen’s meeting. Town Manager Kathleen Billings-Pezaris, who has no official position on the water company, pointed out, that the $80,000 suggested by Olver was not so much more than the annual costs for the water company now, considering that Olver would pay all salaries and associated costs for any employees.

Larrabee said he wanted the ultimate oversight of the water company to be the town, and that it had only been removed from municipal oversight when former Town Manager Paul Blanchette had been hired. There was some discussion about the fact that Blanchette had replaced Stone as town manager, and that Blanchette would have been uncomfortable working with Stone who had become Water Company Superintendent. No decision could be made on that proposal, and there was talk of having Olver come down to talk informally to some members of the board. Failing that, there would be a formal meeting with the entire water company board.

In town business, Duncan reported that the Isle au Haut contingent of the Colwell Ramp Committee was holding some of the $5,000 promised payment because of a dispute about a 100 foot-long barge.

She also said that the town crew said there was water “boiling up” out of the ground on Greenhead, and that the way it was coming, under pressure, indicated that it was a break. She said the town crew was going to work on finding the leak and fixing it.

Billings-Pezaris said Clam Warden Raelene Pert would fill in temporarily for Harbormaster Steve Johnson, who is on vacation, until a permanent person is hired.

Nathan Eaton and George Powell have been appointed to the clam committee.