Water Works changes face Tisbury voters
Tisbury voters will tackle a 15-article warrant at a special town meeting that begins at 7 pm Tuesday in the Tisbury School gymnasium.
In Tisbury, special town meetings traditionally address non-appropriating articles. Many of the April 7 warrant articles concern routine "housekeeping" matters to keep municipal business running smoothly.
Several others, however, require new decisions on the part of voters regarding the governance and funding of the town's water system, connector road plans, an apprenticeship program for the department of public works (DPW), the use of civilian flaggers for some road projects, and leash law revisions.
In regard to the town's water system, article 13 asks for approval for establishing a new town water department and article 14 for establishing a water department enterprise fund. The two articles reflect recommendations made by a water department charter review committee (CRC) after completing a nine-month study last fall.
The town's water system currently is operated and managed by Tisbury Water Works (TWW). In 1905, when the town voted to buy the water company, TWW was created by charter and set up as an enterprise system. Revenues are self-generated through water use fees paid by ratepayers rather than taxpayers. Over the last 20 to 30 years, the issue of TWW's autonomy and the role of the water commissioners versus the selectmen in overseeing funds, personnel, salary, and contracts have caused friction between the two boards.
As a move to resolve their issues, in November 2007 the Tisbury selectmen created the CRC in cooperation with the TWW water commissioners. CRC members included selectman Tristan Israel finance and advisory committee (FinCom) chairman Larry Gomez, TWW commissioner David Schwab, and two at-large members, Roland Miller and Pamela Street.
The committee was charged with reviewing the TWW's 1905 charter and making recommendations concerning the authority of the water commissioners and the water system's structure and governance, employee salaries and benefits, staffing, funding, and accounting practices.
In addition to reviewing the water works charter and numerous policy and legal documents, the committee interviewed more than 25 people, including town and state officials, TWW personnel, and other municipal water systems personnel in Massachusetts. The committee presented its findings last October to the selectmen and water commissioners. In November both boards voted to move forward with the CRC's recommendations.
On February 5, 2009, the Tisbury selectmen and a majority of the water commissioners signed a memorandum of understanding. In addition to outlining the details of the committee's recommendations, the document included an explanation of how in-kind services provided by TWW and other town departments would be handled.