Bethel sets special town meeting on sewer billing issue


BETHEL — A public hearing and special town meeting are scheduled for October to vote on changing the definition of “dwelling unit” as it relates to sewer billing.

The hearing is set for Monday, Oct. 12; the meeting for Monday, Oct. 19.

The proposed change to the town ordinance is in response to sewer customers who have been unhappy with updated billing that took effect last fall.

Sewer bills go out quarterly, with a minimum charge of $121. Using over 1,500 cubic feet of water costs an additional $8.09 per 100 cubic feet.

In 2012, selectmen recommended the town extend the billing to individual dwelling units in properties such as some older apartment buildings, which were billed as a single property. They said units constructed more recently have been billed according to the ordinance, and the updates were needed to be fair.

The changes were outlined at public hearings and approved at the 2012 town meeting, town officials said.

Apartment house owners and business renters responded, saying the town’s definition of a dwelling unit, on which billing is based, is too vague.

The ordinance defines a dwelling unit as “Any part of a structure which, through sale or lease, is intended for human habitation, including single-family and multifamily housing, condominiums, apartments and time-share units.”

Some of the objecting property owners also said that under the current system, lodging places with multiple units should have those units charged separately. They suggested the town simply base its rates on usage.

In February, selectmen voted to suspend “additional accounts that were generated by the most recent change to the Sewer and Water Ordinance,” from April 1 to no later than Dec. 31 of this year, in order to review the situation and possibly come up with a clearer definition of dwelling unit and any other changes that need to be addressed.

On Tuesday, selectmen presented suggested wording, crafted by the Ordinance Review Committee, for the definition of a dwelling unit: “One or more rooms arranged for complete, independent housekeeping purposes with space for eating, living, and sleeping; facilities for cooking; and provisions for sanitation.”

The suggested change said it is not the intent of the code that the list of spaces in the definition of the term ‘dwelling unit’ is to be all inclusive. It is the intent of the code that the list of spaces is a minimal set of criteria that must be provided to be considered a dwelling unit and, therefore, the dwelling unit can contain other spaces that are typical to a single-family dwelling.

Selectman Don Bennett said the new wording is “a little more perhaps thoroughly thought out than the one we had.”

Selectmen will use the fiscal year 2016 wastewater treatment plant budget, which they have yet to approve, to determine how much money needs to be raised by billing and then calculate a billing rate.

“We’re going to have to raise some rates,” Bennett said.

The board reviewed a proposed budget for the wastewater treatment plant Tuesday, but some selectmen said they needed more time to consider it and postponed a vote until their next meeting.

They also directed that after the budget is approved a committee comprised of Bennett, Lloyd Sweetser, Peter Southam and Carol Boden, who is on the Ordinance Review Committee, examine the rate structure and rework it.