Dover eyes water, DPW merger

The Daily Record

Study recommends eliminating water commission in the process

DOVER -- After enacting the first water rate increase in four years on Jan. 1 along with a $2,000 water connection fee, town officials now are considering merging the town's water and public works departments.

As part of the move they also would dissolve the Dover Water Commission, which oversees the water department.

The changes are largely based upon recommendations from two studies that were completed late last year, town Administrator Bibi Stewart Garvin said.

One of the studies, conducted by the town's auditor, Nisivoccia & Company, looked into the revenues and expenditures of the Water Department, and recommended a change in water rates.

The other study, by Warren Township-based consultant DeFeo Associates, looked into the feasibility of merging the water department with the department of public works, and of implementing a water connection fee.

Following the results of the Nisivoccia study, water rates increased this year from $1.52 to $1.82 per 100 cubic feet. That translates to an increase of about $5 per quarter for the average Dover user, Garvin said.

In addition, a $2,000 fee for first-time connections to the water system was enacted. The fee was determined by taking an average of how much surrounding towns charge for water hook-up fees, Garvin said.

Nisivoccia now is conducting another study to better determine how much it costs to hook a new customer up to the water system, Garvin added.

"We haven't heard any comments from the public about the water rate increases, and no complaints about the connection fee, which is a very typical charge,"Garvin said.

James Mullin, president of the Dover Water Commission, noted that before this year, Dover water rates had not increased in about four years.

He added that the one-time hook-up fee is a better cost structure because it charges the new user, instead of spreading hook-up costs among all users.

"A lot is involved in connecting to the water system. It's better to charge that person one time, rather than to spread the cost overall over users," he said.

The Nisivoccia study also compared Dover water rates with those of surrounding towns. The study said Wharton's water rates are 23 percent higher than Dover's, Mine Hill's are 102 percent higher, and Randolph's are 20 percent higher.

The merger feasibility study by DeFeo Associates was completed in November 2006. Some of its recommendations were that the Dover Water Commission be dissolved; that the Water Department and the Department of Public Works, which currently oversees sewer maintenance and operations, be merged into one department; that a Water/Sewer Utility be created; that water meters be replaced within six to nine months; that billing equipment be upgraded; and that long-range capital and operational planning be improved to avoid rate shock and operating deficits.

"Staff utilization of Water Commission personnel can be dramatically improved to reduce operational costs, increase productivity, and increase staff morale," the DeFeo report stated. "Staff supervisors within the Water Commission can be more productive and interactive. Many Water Commission activities can be modified to increase efficiency and improve overall cash flow for the town."

The report also noted that a number of tasks could be performed jointly by the water and public works departments, including vehicle maintenance, grass cutting and infrastructure repairs. A number of DPW tasks could be outsourced, the report said, including landscaping, weighing of garbage trucks, yard waste removal, and household appliance collection.

The Water/Sewer Utility would be a division of the merged Water/DPW Department that would oversee accounting, legislation and personnel for water and sewer functions.

A committee that includes three aldermen, members of the town administration, and a Water Department commissioner, is currently reviewing the findings and recommendations of the DeFeo study, Garvin said. A town ordinance would have to be passed in order for a merger of the water and public works departments to occur, she added.

Mullin pointed out that though the DeFeo study addresses operational efficiencies, it does not address the specifics of cost savings.

"Efficiencies are mentioned, but I'm not sure what the cost savings to the town and the user are,"he said.

Mullin added that there is not much he can do if the town decides to dissolve the Water Commission, which was created in March 1884 by a voter referendum.

"It seems to me that the water board exists at the will of the Board of Aldermen," he said. "They can dissolve it when and as they see fit, if they feel it is in the best interest of the town. I've given my input on the (DeFeo) report. If that's what they feel should be done, then that's what's going to be done."

The Water Commission consists of three water commissioners who are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the board of aldermen. Mullin has served on the commission for three years, including two years as president.