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Stick to the relevant facts in merger discussion

In his letter in last week’s issue, my Oak Lodge Water District Board Chairman Myron Martwick started campaigning against the possibility of a merger with the Oak Lodge Sanitary District.

Our board voted to cooperate with the analysis of the financial feasibility of a merger, so it seems contrary to board protocol to publicly argue against that decision while the analysis is underway. Furthermore, he oversteps the principle of mutual respect that we board members are supposed to adhere to when, referring to Terry Gibson, Nancy Gibson and me, he says “... what are the real motives of OLSD and the newly elected OLWD board members regarding the merger?”

No, Myron, the Gibsons and I are not engaged in a sinister plot. I will speak only for myself: my motive is simple and I have explained it at OLWD Board meetings more than once in Myron’s presence, but will do so again here:

The service areas of the Oak Lodge Sanitary District and the Oak Lodge Water District are about 95 percent congruent, and the sanitary district bases its fees partly on water-usage data provided to it by the water district, so it seems to me obvious that cost savings that would be passed along to customers are possible if the two districts merge at least some functions. It is exactly that possibility that is the focus of the study underway by Steve Donovan, the consultant engaged by OLSD. If that study concludes that significant cost savings are not likely from a merger, then everything Myron said is moot. There will be no next step.

Myron, though, seems convinced that the result of the study is a foregone conclusion in favor of a merger, citing Mr. Donovon’s presentation at an OLSD meeting showing how increases in rates would be less under a merged district than if the two districts continue as is. Myron asserts that “It is not unusual for consultants to perform studies to satisfy predetermined outcomes wanted by the study’s sponsors.”

I was at that meeting, too, and I think Mr. Donovon simply showed a benefit of one possible outcome; and said, based on his extensive experience in analyzing water and sewer districts, that such an outcome is quite possible. I do not assume a bias on the part of Mr. Donovon. I do assume that the study will be done fairly and thoroughly, and I am prepared to accept whatever outcome we see in June.

Myron brings up some arguments relevant to a merger that do deserve discussion, such as funding improvements by borrowing vs rate increases; how board members can have enough understanding of both water and sewage treatment to be effective in both; whether a merged district would be “less responsive about drinking water issues”, etc. I just think it premature to debate those points before the financial study is finished.

Myron brings up some other points such as whether “Gibson” (Nancy Gibson, fellow OLWD Board member) is right in saying OLWD needs to engage in more outreach to the public; whether her knowledge of Spanish will help communication with the customers; whether it’s important to avoid big rate increases such as the recent 171 percent increase in the fixed portion of the water bill; whether OLWD really does have a strategic plan and disaster preparedness plan; and others. These questions are irrelevant to the present merger question and should be debated regardless of the status of the merger.

Myron also says that the “... current board rejected...” the merger idea. I presume he meant the previous board. What the previous board accepted or rejected is beside the point in the current merger discussion.

If the merger idea moves forward beyond the financial study, there will be ample opportunity for public involvement-and for board members to try to influence public perceptions.

David Gray is an elected commissioner on the Oak Lodge Water District Board of Directors.



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