The Brass City’s water department owns thousands of pristine acres in Litchfield County. Some of its political leaders want to create a new authority that would take over the operation, and achieve the power to sell some of the land. The legislation to do it didn’t get called this session.Does that mean it’s really dead?
The last night of legislative session assumes a furious pace. Politicians make deals with colleagues to drop time consuming amendments, caucus leaders get bombarded with requests to call pet bills, and tempers flare due to excessive caffeine, alcohol, or sleep deprivation.Then there’s the implementers. These bills actually legislate the budget, and they are often laden with ideas that had been left for dead. A large part of the last night is consumed with rumors about what could be hiding within an implementer.Tonight’s talk involved Waterbury’s water.State Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Southington), who represents a piece of Waterbury, has been crafting a bill that would create a new water authority for the city. The idea is for this authority to sell bonds to pay down Waterbury’s large pension deficit, estimated at $400 million. In theory, that should reduce property tax bills. Waterbury Mayor Michael Jarjura is said to back the idea.But critics in the city fear that the new authority would have the authority to sell the Water Department’s 7,000 acres in affluent Litchfield County. If the authority sells some of its reservoirs, and then must contract with private corporations for the water, bills could go up, said Larry DePillo, a perennial mayoral candidate and activist in the Independent Party, which controls six seats on the city’s Board of Aldermen.“We might have to buy back at double, triple what it is now,” DePillo said.Not so, Murphy responds, saying the legislation would forbid the sale of watershed land, adding that the authority would have to be approved by referendum. But other outlying parcels could be unloaded, he said.So on the last night of session, word traveled through the corridors that the water authority bill would be tucked inside a budget implementer. That would mean the idea would pass without debate. Murphy said he “didn’t think” the authority would be in an Office of Policy and Management budget implementer, but could not say for sure until he saw the document.The implementer will be passed during a special legislative session later this month.In an ironic twist, the authority would inherit all of the city’s Water Department workers. But because they would now work for a non-municipal entity, they would be entitled to binding arbitration on their labor contracts. All session, Jarjura fought a bill that would have restored binding arbitration to Waterbury’s unions (see Hartley Walks Out On Caucus Meeting).