The boards of the Hallowell and Gardiner water districts are proposing to consolidate the two organizations. As chairmen of each of the two districts, we would like to explain why.

The two water districts serve about 4,200 customers, most of whom are in Hallowell, Farmingdale, Gardiner and Randolph, with a few also in Pittston and Chelsea. Gardiner is the larger of the two districts, with 80 percent of the customers.

Both districts have excellent water quality; the Environmental Protection Agency reports no health-based or monitoring violations for either district in the past 10 years, a perfect record.

Both districts have affordable rate structures; the latest Maine Public Utilities Commission statewide rankings put Gardiner 27th lowest in rates among the 154 water districts in Maine, and Hallowell, the 42nd lowest. Both districts have had rate increases since the PUC ranking, but even with these increases, both districts still have lower-than-average rates.

So, you might ask, if everything is going so well, why consolidate? We are looking ahead to the future, since we want to maintain high water quality. Combining districts would provide multiple and redundant water sources for our customers, thus assuring that backup water would be readily available if there is a contamination problem.

Combining districts also would provide administrative savings and efficiencies. Over the long run, we would not need to have two superintendents, two sets of books, two billing procedures, two outside auditors and attorneys, two annual reports to various regulatory bodies. That would save administrative money, and make more funds available to fix old pipes and distribution systems.

Finally, combining districts would provide greater stability. The Hallowell District currently has a superintendent and a part-time bookkeeper. If the superintendent were to leave the job for any reason, the district would have a hard time continuing to function. The consolidation would provide administrative stability and continuity.

Our proposal does not arise out of thin air. We have considered this option for several years, and have tested the prospect by cooperating on specific activities.

Gardiner staff provides emergency and off-duty services to the Hallowell district, which, in turn, provides financial and billing services to the Gardiner district. Both districts share trucks and equipment. These arrangements have improved the quality of services and saved money.

Cooperation, however, has its limits, particularly when it comes to decisions about staff and equipment purchases. Consolidation would answer these questions once and for all, and would allow trustees to always choose the most efficient option.

During the next two months, our consultants, Frank O’Hara of Planning Decisions and Kirsten Hebert of the Maine Rural Water Association, will visit with town councils and boards of selectmen of the affected communities to discuss the proposal. We will hold public hearings in December.

After the public outreach process is over, the two boards of Gardiner and Hallowell will meet in mid-December to decide on revisions to the proposal based on public feedback, and whether to submit legislation to the Legislature to enable the consolidation. If such legislation is submitted and passed, we anticipate public referendums will be held in the affected communities next year, and that, if residents approve, consolidation would occur in 2016.

We have not yet come up with a name for the new district, and people are invited to submit suggestions. One idea already submitted is to name the consolidated district the Central Maine Water District.

Anyone who has questions or comments about the proposed consolidation can be sent to our consultant, Frank O’Hara, at [email protected]. He will bring the comments to both of our boards for consideration.

Jeffrey Kobrock is chairman of the Gardiner Water District board of trustees. Richard Dolby is chairman of the Hallowell Water District board of trustees.


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