Vote yes on water and sewer issue
The town financial crisis continues. A large part of the crisis is the $3.2 million owed to the town by the Water and Sewer Commission. Members of the commission trusted the former finance director who used the Water and Sewer account to cover his tricky accounting of the town books.
It is alleged that Henry Centrella was able to use Water and Sewer to cover his scheme because a 1999 charter revision separated Water and Sewer from the town and made it an independent agency. This schism between the town government and Water and Sewer was a weakness that he exploited and he encouraged the volunteer Water and Sewer Commission members to keep its finances separate from the town.
The Water and Sewer Commission did not provide reports to the Board of Selectmen, it worked directly with Centrella rather than the town manager, it did not review its own financial statements, did not have audits, was not aware of the improper transfers, did not regularly analyze the rates, and its budget was not included in the town budget. It considered itself separate from the town, even sending a letter instructing the town manager that it was an independent agency and not subject to oversight by the town.
According to the 2013 King, King and Associates audit of the Water and Sewer Commission, the finances began unraveling in 1999. Specifically it states that the “decline of the financial condition of the Water and Sewer funds can be traced back to 1999” and that “over a period of 14 years the commission was advanced an estimated $3.2 million from the town.” Additionally the audit revealed that the commission had only raised rates twice in the past 14 years and was not covering its own operating expenses.
The remedy to this huge gap in accountability is to revise the charter to bring the Water and Sewer department back under the umbrella of the town, managed by the town manager and the Department of Public Works as is every other department in town.
Since selectmen or commission members do not have the expertise to manage the increasingly complex water and sewer facilities, it should be under the direction of a qualified director of Public Works — a certified professional engineer — and his staff, which the town now has. The system would be accountable to the town manager and the Board of Selectmen, which would set the rates based upon the recommendations of the director of Public Works and the town manager.
The writer is the community lawyer in Winsted.