Lee plans meeting on water-sewer privatization
LEE -- The Selectmen have tentatively set aside May 20 as the date on which they will schedule a special informational meeting on the potential privatization of the town's sewer and water systems.
The date is subject to change, according to Town Manager Robert Nason, but he told the Selectmen on Monday night that he wanted to be able to set aside an entire meeting to discuss the issue.
"It's a big and complicated issue, and I think we should devote an entire meeting to it," he said.
That date would be a week after the annual town meeting.
Nason said several firms have indicated their interest in being hired as a consultant to make a presentation before the town representatives and other residents on the pluses and minuses of privatization.
Selectmen Chairman Patricia Carlino agreed that it would probably be unwise to attempt to attach the presentation to the annual town meeting.
"I think a lot of people have questions," she said. "Any meeting about this would take up a lot of time."
The town has been pondering the privatization of its sewer and water systems for several years. Privatization means that the town would hire an independent company to take over the operation of its sewer and water systems.
The company would be under contract to the town of Lee, and would run the two systems under one company umbrella. The length and terms of the contract, said Nason, would be negotiable.
The principal reason for such a move would be to save money. At this point, most town officials concede that it is unclear whether privatizing the sewer and water operation would be a money-saver. If it proved not to be so, town officials have insisted that they would not go down that road.
A consulting engineer would, in theory, be able to make that assessment.
But local officials and residents also note that there is more to the issue than just saving money.
For example, while the private entity running the sewer and water systems would be under contract to the town, many residents believe its principal task would be making money for itself. In past hearings, residents have asked town officials how they would be able to ensure consistent quality service from a for-profit entity.
But perhaps the most controversial aspect of the plan is that the present DPW workers would all have to reapply to whatever outside entity was hired to run the sewer and water systems. Many DPW workers have argued that there was no way to ensure they would get the same health and retirement benefits as Lee's municipal employees.
In addition, another argument is that the for-profit entity would not be bound to retaining the entire work force presently under contract to the town.
Supporters of privatization point out that these types of demands can be built into any contract with an outside agency. The town would still have a say in how the DPW employees are treated.