By Larry Barszewski
Manalapan is lucky to have its own water supply, Mayor Keith Waters says, and he wants to protect it from a future commission that might want to sell it off.
At the commission’s Nov. 17 meeting, Waters proposed asking voters to approve a referendum that would require voter approval before any such sale could go through. The earliest the initial referendum could be held is in March 2024, officials said.
The referendum would be similar to how Ocean Ridge voters protected the town’s Police Department. Voters in 2020 approved requiring a referendum before any future proposed merger of the department with another agency — such as the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office — could occur.
“I would like for the town to consider, or the commission to consider, doing something that precludes any future groups that may sit at this dais from making a decision to sell our water without a referendum from the community, without the community having a chance to say yes or no,” Waters said.
“I know in a lot of different cities, the privatization of water is a big issue. We have an asset that is not replaceable and we don’t really have anything in place that precludes six people from sitting up here and making a decision.”
Town Manager Linda Stumpf said there’s not enough time to prepare ballot language, have the commission approve it, and get it to the Supervisor of Elections in time for the March 2023 elections. Manalapan won’t be having a town election in 2023 anyway. Only one candidate filed for each of its four open seats, so those candidates have been automatically elected to the positions they sought.
The next available date for a referendum is March 2024, Stumpf said.
Waters said ownership has become a serious issue in different parts of the country, especially in California, where water prices are increasing.
“I’d like to protect that asset because we are the only barrier island [community] that has our own water. Everyone else is beholden to whoever’s on the other side” of the Intracoastal Waterway, Waters said.
Highland Beach is the only other South County barrier island town with its own water plant.
The commission was supportive of the mayor’s idea and will discuss it with the town’s legal counsel at its December meeting, which has been moved to 10 a.m. Dec. 13 to avoid conflicts with the holidays. “I think the important thing is we really explain this to the town,” Commissioner Chauncey Johnstone said.
In other business:
• The Town Commission authorized spending $84,520 to have consultant Mock Roos & Associates prepare a 30% design for a town sewer system, which would replace the current private septic tanks. The design work is needed to apply for potential grants and to get a better idea of the true cost of the project, which had a preliminary estimate of $10.3 million. The information is also needed for discussions with town residents on whether a switch to sewer is something they support.
• Manalapan’s efforts to entice workers to stay with the town by approving higher salaries hasn’t been as effective as hoped because other towns raised their salaries as well, Stumpf said.
The town will now look at possibly offering higher salaries to new police officers based on their overall years in law enforcement, she said. The town also plans to implement a shift differential that boosts the pay of officers working the midnight shift.
• New security guards are now in place at the guard house on Point Manalapan.
“So far, we’re very pleased with what they’re doing. They’re very visible,” Stumpf said. “There’s one young gentleman who sits outside and waves and smiles to everybody, it’s like amazing. He sits there just smiling, happy as can be. It’s wonderful.”
The mayor suggested providing high-top chairs for the guards, though, so that they’re more readily visible to drivers.
By Larry Barszewski