Bath clerk Flynn swears in new BEGWS commissioners sworn in

Mary Perham
A new Bath Electric Gas and Water Systems Commission was sworn in Monday night at a regularly scheduled village board utility meeting. From left to right, the new commissioners are William Heigel, Michael Austin, Harold Rodbourn, Rhonda Sweet and Barney Bonicave.

A new Bath Electric Gas and Water System commission has been sworn in, marking the transition from more than three years of direct oversight by the village board.

Harold Rodbourn, Barney Bonicave, William Heigel, Rhonda Sweet and Michael Austin were sworn in by Bath Village Clerk Nonie Flynn on Monday for initial terms on the unpaid commission ranging from one year to five years.

The five commissioners were selected by village trustees after a two-month search, and appointed roughly a week after BEGWS Director Matt Benesh’s retirement became official.

The new commission will provide oversight and control over BEGWS, with a village trustee appointed as a nonvoting liaison to the commission. The trustee will report back to the village board on the utility’s operations.

Outgoing Trustee John Stranges told the new commissioners the village board should keep a close eye on the commission’s activities and finances. He also warned them the village resolution setting up the new BEGWS group stated commissioners were unpaid.

Stranges said the previous commission, dissolved in May 2008, had “allowed mistakes to occur” and urged the new commissioners to work as a team with trustees.

The previous BEGWS commission, and the utility’s upper management, was sharply criticized in a state audit released last year.

The audit charged the utility with poor bookkeeping, overpayments to certain BEGWS employees and conflicts of interest.

BEGWS liaison and village Trustee Bill von Hagn countered the current village board had allowed sewer rates to remain at a deficit under their watch. He also listed  a number of positives achieved under the earlier commission, such as work with the Arbor Day Foundation and Shade Tree Committee.

Stranges and Trustee Jeanne Glass suggested von Hagn was unaware trustees had approved increases in sewer rates every year for three years, instead of approving a substantial rate increase in one year. The board approved the sewer rate increases in 2010.

New BEGWS Commissioner Harold Rodbourn, who was appointed for a five-year term, said the new commission will take advantage of classes on utility issues and will meet with BEGWS supervisors to learn the direction of each department and future plans.

BEGWS serves the entire village of Bath, which has approximately 5,600 residents.