Montville - Following a particularly heated public hearing, the Town Council voted on Monday night to adopt an ordinance that gives the Water Pollution Control Authority control over its operations and employee contracts.
The 5-2 vote came after about an hour of contentious debate among more than 60 residents who questioned the intent of the ordinance and expressed concern that the Town Council was unnecessarily ceding control over the authority. Councilors Rosetta Jones and Dana McFee were opposed.
The WPCA will still have to go through the council to approve its water rates, a provision that is established in a state statute. But former first selectman and mayor Howard "Russ" Beetham was among those in the audience who spoke against the amendments that the ordinance creates. Beetham and others argued that the WPCA - much like other town commissions - should remain under the oversight of the Town Council.
"When you don't have continuity, you start to get hatred and discontent," Beetham said.
The ordinance will also give the WPCA oversight of its final annual budget. This will be a benefit partly because WPCA Administrator Brian Lynch said the WPCA's annual delinquent sewer charges have doubled in the past four years as the economy has worsened. The WPCA had about $200,839 in delinquent sewer charges in 2011.
WPCA Chairman Timothy May said that some residents have concerns about the WPCA having autonomy because they recall former town employee and WPCA Deputy Administrator Linda Rivera embezzling $51,500 from the department over several years. Rivera eventually pleaded guilty to first-degree larceny in 2007 and was ordered to pay back legal fees the town incurred in the case.
May said the amendments in the ordinance approved by the Town Council will not change much. He said residents should know the council and Mayor Ronald K. McDaniel Jr. will still have a role in the WPCA's dealings.
"We are looked at from so many different angles," May said. "(The council) is still looking over our shoulder."
Talk of the ordinance first surfaced about 18 months ago when the WPCA became aware of a 1995 town charter revision that gave the authority control over its operations and employees and their contracts.
Jones questioned the town's liability in lawsuits against the WPCA and McFee said he would like to see the WPCA's five-member commission increased to seven or nine. A motion was raised to table a vote on the ordinance but failed.