Two Natrona County municipalities and a water district are in a dispute over who should manage the water system.
The municipalities — Mills and Bar Nunn — say they should have control over their residents’ water supply, while the Wardwell Water and Sewer District say dissolution of the district would not be in the best interest of customers.
The issue could fall to the Natrona County Commissioners to decide.
The towns of Mills and Bar Nunn presented a proposal to the commissioners at their last work session informing the body of the towns’ goal of dissolving the Wardwell water district. They would then split the system and operate the halves independently, representatives told the commissioners at the time.
Both Mills and Bar Nunn have passed resolutions affirming the goal and Bar Nunn has created a petition for residents to sign in support of the plan. Both towns are collecting signatures, according to an information sheet on Bar Nunn’s website.
The information sheet lists six benefits to the consumer if the change were to occur: increased accountability, a single utility bill for water and sewer, “one less layer of bureaucracy,” the elimination of tax mills levied by Wardwell and better water rates.
In a video promoting the petition, Bar Nunn council member Peter Boyer told residents dissolving the special district and taking control of the service for its town would “reduce our taxes, promote economic development and simplify the town’s utility bills.”
He added that the town’s leaders would be going door-to-door over the coming weeks to collect signatures. He said the town needs 75% of residents to sign the petition to move forward with dissolving the district.
Wardwell officials have declined to comment on the record, but released a statement Wednesday opposing its dissolution.
“The Wardwell Water and Sewer District has engaged in extensive research and discussions with the Towns of Bar Nunn and Mills regarding voluntary dissolution and the transfer of all materials, utility infrastructure and the operation of the system to the Towns,” the statement reads. “Our research conclusively demonstrates that dissolution would not benefit Wardwell Water and Sewer District’s customers or Natrona County.”
It goes on to question how county residents served by Wardwell would fare under the arrangement, as the municipalities would be responsible for that service under their proposal as well.
The statement concludes with “The Board of Directors for the Wardwell Water and Sewer District is, and always has been, willing and open to continuing discussions with the Towns of Bar Nunn and Mills, and the Natrona County Board of County Commissioners…”
The Wardwell district was established in 1969, nearly 50 years after Mills was founded but more than a decade before Bar Nunn was incorporated. It serves 1,600 customers between residential and commercial consumers.
A message to county attorney Eric Nelson asking about next steps following Wardwell’s statement was not immediately returned Friday. Statute does afford the county commissioners authority to dissolve a special water district if they deem it best for the customers.
The Commissioners have not discussed the issue beyond hearing the towns’ presentation at their last work session on Sept 1.
Follow local government reporter Morgan Hughes on Twitter @morganhwrites
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