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Oak Lodge voters approve merger of sewer, water districts

By a 70 percent vote in favor according to unofficial election night results, citizens in Oak Grove and Jennings Lodge voted on May 17 to proceed with the proposed consolidation of special districts that provide sewer and water services to the area.

Sue Keil, an Oak Lodge Sanitary District board member, thought the election outcome boiled down to cost savings and service improvements.

“Our customers wanted to take advantage of the over $4 million in cost savings in just the first 10 years, plus service improvements that wouldn’t be possible without consolidation,” Keil said. “Work is already underway with both boards to make all of the benefits happen as soon as possible.”

The newly consolidated district may be known as Oak Lodge Water Services, a name preferred in customer surveys.

Approval of the consolidation came after the districts’ elected leaders studied the move for more than five years. In February, by a 3-0 vote of the OLSD and 3-2 vote of the Oak Lodge Water District boards, elected officials referred the consolidation question to voters. OLWD board members Dick Jones and Leonard Waldemar voted against referring the proposal to the ballot.

On hearing the May 17 election results, OLWD Board member Jim Martin said, “It just makes sense. Voters agreed with the two elected boards that the time has come to consolidate. Now it is time to get to work on putting these two districts together.”

OLWD has served the area since 1922 and OLSD since 1956. The two districts’ boundaries nearly overlap and they share 85 percent of the same customers.

Voters apparently want to create efficiencies of scale that promise to save the districts at least $425,000 annually and improve customer service. Although a merger will not mean smaller bills, district officials say that customers can now expect any rate increases to remain constant with inflation, avoiding the large rate hikes of the past.

Now that voters have approved the proposal, ratepayers will receive only one bill from the combined districts, reducing paperwork.

Remodeling will have to occur at the water district headquarters to accommodate all the employees, and the sanitary district headquarters a couple blocks away will go on the market. Proceeds from the estimated $730,000 sale of the OLSD building will go to sanitary capital funds.

The two district boards have scheduled a joint meeting on Monday, May 23, to work together on the consolidation transition plan. They will choose among the 10 current board members, five of whom would sit on the new consolidated board.

The two boards have already named an interim management team, to be headed by current OLWD general manager Dan Bradley. Other team members are OLSD Deputy General Manager (Planning & Engineering) Jason Rice, OLWD Financial Manager Kelly Stacey, OLSD Wastewater Operations Manager Mark Walter, OLWD Superintendent Todd Knapp and OLSD Asset Maintenance Manager Rich Ludlow.