By Katina Caraganis

MediaNews

TOWNSEND -- Water Superintendent Paul Rafuse will seek support from a future Town Meeting to form an independent water district separate from other town entities.

Rafuse said he's proposing the change now because he feels that having complete control over all water operations will help streamline services.

"We want to more efficiently operate and better serve our customers," he said.

With a separate district, Rafuse said, "The stakeholders get an opportunity to have a voice and attend and vote on issues that are only water-related issues. Going to Town Meeting, whether it's our budget or projects going on, it won't get caught up in the multitude of other things being discussed."

Town Administrator Andy Sheehan said the water district's finances are managed through an enterprise fund, which is a separate entity from the general fund. An enterprise fund allows the Water Department to stand alone and manage its own finances.

Fees from water users in town are put into the enterprise fund, which then covers all costs associated with running the department.

Each home on the town system is charged a base price of $75.

Timberlee Park customers have their water metered in gallons, and their rate is $4 per 1,000 gallons used. All other customers are charged in cubic feet and pay $3 per 100 cubic feet.

The 500 homes in Timberlee Park were added to the town's system in 2007, and those homes, in addition to 52 hydrants, have added extra work to the department's employees.

Water commissioners must go before Town Meeting every spring to formally have the money in its enterprise fund appropriated so the department can use it, Sheehan said. That step would be eliminated if the new district was formed.

Water commissioners already meet twice a month to discuss pending water issues, and that would not change. The only additional meeting, Rafuse said, would be the annual district meeting and election.

To become a separate water district, water commissioners must go before Town Meeting to seek approval to petition state legislators, who must approve the measure.

In a district meeting, only water issues facing the users and the district would be discussed, which Rafuse believes will better suit the customers in the long run.

The shift to an independent district will not likely lower a user's bill, Rafuse said, but it would not cost any more than what is already being paid.

Sheehan said the way the system is set up now, if a user is unsatisfied with the way the Water Department has handled a situation, he can call Town Hall and work with selectmen to resolve the problem.

That will no longer be the case, Sheehan said.

"It will be an adjustment to realize if they have a problem with their water, whether it be billing or cloudy water, the resolution to that will not come through Town Hall," he said.

Rafuse maintains that the decision to pursue an independent district is purely an operational one.

"It's just a change in the operational ways the department is run," he said. "It is not a change that would have a direct relation to whether rates are increased or decreased. It's more toward the overall operation aspect."