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Montville - A vote at a town meeting Monday night narrowly defeated a Town Council decision to unequivocally grant the Water Pollution Control Authority final say over its budget and personnel.
The vote was 57-49 and overturned an ordinance passed last month by the council that sought to clarify a 1995 charter revision that gave the WPCA authority over its operations, employees and their contracts.
Several residents on both sides of the issue spoke at the town meeting, held in the Montville High School auditorium.
Ultimately, those who won out pointed to a concern that there would be a lack of transparency if the WPCA were granted autonomy over its operations.
"I have never heard of any company or business giving away a key to the cash register without any type of supervision," said Robert Manfredi, one of about 15 people who spoke.
The WPCA will still need council approval to set water rates, as required by state statute. WPCA attorney Ron Ochsner also said previously the council must approve any bonding and could order an audit of the WPCA at any time.
WPCA Chairman Timothy May said Monday that he believes the defeat of the ordinance won't affect how the WPCA will operate moving forward. While the council had sought to clarify language in the charter, he said the 1995 charter revision was still designed to give the WPCA final say over its budget and personnel.
The Town Council took oversight over the WPCA's accounting in 2006 in part because a former employee embezzled $51,500 from the department over several years. Differing legal opinions have since contributed to different interpretations of how the town should govern the WPCA.
Residents who spoke against giving the WPCA greater authority cited the five-member WPCA commission as a potential problem. They argued that a municipal organization with a $5.7 million budget should have more oversight.
Many who spoke in favor of the ordinance, including Mayor Ronald K. McDaniel Jr. and Town Councilor Chuck Longton, said the ordinance was simply a way to clear up an issue that has become a source of confusion for the town.
"It's been 17 years arguing about the same thing," McDaniel said. "The purpose of the ordinance was to clarify everything once and for all so we could all move forward."
McDaniel said a future agreement could potentially be crafted between the town and the WPCA that could also clarify the town's role in WPCA matters. McDaniel, Town Council Chairwoman Candy Buebendorf and former WPCA Chairman Richard Wilson recently worked on a draft of such an agreement.
A petition filed by former Town Councilor Ellen Hillman forced Monday's town meeting. The petition had 510 verified signatures - 29 more than required. The petition needed 5 percent of the town's 9,614 registered voters.