By BRIAN KELLY
Does a merger make sense? Voters in Penn Cove will decide at the ballot box Tuesday if their water and sewer districts should be combined.
Officials say merging the two districts on Whidbey Island will save money by reducing the costs for complying with federal and state regulations.
"It only makes economic sense," said Dean Thiem, water district manager. "There is a tremendous amount of duplication of effort."
"We think we can run a more efficient and effective operation by joining together and sharing resources, and hopefully, save our ratepayers some money," he said.
Although many areas in the Puget Sound region have combined sewer and water districts, Penn Cove has had two separate districts for more than 30 years, Thiem said. The districts have roughly 170 connections that serve approximately 450 people.
The combined district would also save money on insurance and billing costs, but Thiem could not say exactly how much would be saved. Any costs savings, he added, would help keep water and sewer rates low.
"I’d hate to put a number on it because someone’s going to wad that number up and stick it under my nose," he said.
The merger has opponents, however.
Gerry Yakovleff, a Penn Cove resident and member of the opposition committee, is worried that the merger will allow developers to funnel new growth in the Penn Cove area, with existing homeowners footing the bill for development.
The water district amassed $1.5 million of debt for water facility upgrades, and bills of residents doubled when construction finished in 1998, Yakovleff said. A merger would allow the combined district to go deeper into debt, she said.
"We’re up to our throats in debt," Yakovleff said.
But Thiem said developers will have to pay to hook up to the Penn Cove water and sewer system.
Resolutions have already been adopted that require latecomers to help fund infrastructure improvements and administrative costs, Thiem said.
"Nobody is going to get in for any less than you or I paid, or any of my neighbors paid," he said.
Both districts have already negotiated a merger agreement. The measure needs a simple majority to pass.
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