For 56 years, the wastewater treatment plant in New Milford has been under the jurisdiction of the town's Sewer Commission.

That all changed Monday, Sept. 7.

The mayor nows makes the call when it comes to the sewer workers.

In a 5-3 vote by the Town Council, sewer plant employees will now be under the mayor's purview as town employees.

"I don't get it," said Councilman Walter Bayer. "Everyone agrees the sewer plant personnel do a great job, that the Sewer Commission does a great job of managing the Waste Water Pollution Control Authority."

"If it's not broke," he asked, "why fix it?"

Public opinion has seemed to be against the change, with one letter writer to The Spectrum suggesting this was "another power grab" by Republican Mayor Pat Murphy and a Republican majority Town Council.

Pete Bass, the council's GOP vice chairman, noted "if we wanted to grab control, we could disband the WPCA as it stands and put the Town Council in that role."

The sewer plant on West Street, with a capacity to treat two million gallons of effluent, has just seven employees.

A new supervisor, Rob Pudelka, started in late August.

The plant had been without a supervisor since the death of longtime manager Ken Bailey in January.

The plant's assistant chief, Ronnie Ploof, temporarily assumed the supervisor's duties.

"This is not a critique of the performance of sewer plant employees," said Mayor Pat Murphy. "This is being done to have all the town employees under one umbrella."

"I want them under our human resources and personnel department. I'm talking about providing extra support for the employees."

Murphy said the sewer plant employees now hold the same status as Parks & Recreation Department employees and other town employees whose departments are overseen by a commission.

John Heaton, Sewer Commission vice chairman, was opposed to the change, as was former commission attorney Jeff Sienkiewicz.

"I think this violates state statutes," Sienkiewicz told the council during a public hearing last month. "The whole sewer system is designed by legislators to separate the Water Pollution Control Authority from direct town government involvement."

In March 1995, the state Department of Environmental Protection talked about isolation of the WPCA and about the history of sewer facilities suffering because they were under general town government authority, Sienkiewicz noted.

"I would think if the Town Council was unhappy with the Sewer Commission, they would have come to us," Heaton said. "Commission members are all vetted by you; in that sense, we were all town employees."

stuz@newstimes.com; 860-355-7322