The Sheridan County commissioners abandoned a plan to consolidate the Sheridan Area Water Supply system and the city of Sheridan water system earlier this month. A wise decision.
The city water system and the SAWS system are essentially the same thing. The water comes from the same place. The city operates and maintains both systems. The SAWS board pays the city for maintenance of its share. In most ways, you would never know which system you were on if it weren’t for the name at the top of your bill.
But, the consolidation would have left county customers without any say in how they are charged and how the system is managed. This is because while the SAWS Joint Powers Board consists of three county commissioners and three Sheridan City Council members, a consolidation would have left the decisions solely in the hands of the city. Sheridan County residents don’t get to vote for Sheridan City Council members.
While we all like to assume everyone in the city has the best interests of all Sheridan County residents at heart, that may not — or at least may not always — be the case.
Creating development within city limits would increase property tax revenues for the city. A consolidation would give the city sole control over who gets new water taps and who doesn’t. What incentive would city officials have to choose a county development over one within its own boundaries? While there are plenty of taps available now, that won’t always be the case.
Considering the city and county officials have not always seen eye to eye on issues, what reassurances would the county residents have that they wouldn’t be ignored?
County officials noted that the agreement would have been written in a way that protected county residents. But, as years pass, agreements can be re-interpreted to mean what we want them to mean.
Had the consolidation moved ahead, in all likelihood, it would have worked out fine. Public perception and state statutes would have helped to keep any potential issues in check. Still, putting the care and trust of a class of citizens in the hands of folks not elected to represent that class doesn’t always work out well. The county was wise to abandon its plan to consolidate.