LIVERMORE FALLS — Selectmen voted 4-1 Monday to raise sewer rates by 20 percent. The decision came after a public hearing where some sewer users asked for help from the town to get the system out of debt.
The board, in its capacity as Sewer Department trustees, also pledged to look at other options to help offset the cost of sewer system and treatment plant and bring it to voters in June. One option is to have non-sewer users pay through taxation to help get the system out of debt.
The rate increase raises the base rate from $55 to $60 per unit each quarter and increases the water use rate from 4.3 cents per cubic foot of water used to 5.16 cents.
The decision, which was opposed by Selectman Jim Collins, came after discussion with residents including landlords during a public hearing.
The increase would bring in an additional $17,029 per quarter or $68,119.84 annually, Town Manager Kristal Flagg said, which is still not enough to cover expenses.
“We have been in the red for quite a few years,” she said.
The Department finds itself in the negative nearly $100,000 annually, she said.
A 35 percent increase would be ideal to cover debt, she said, but “we all realize that’s a huge increase for users.”
The Sewer Department took out loans over the years to pay for upgrades to the infrastructure and the plant but sewer rates were not adjusted, Flagg said. Currently $200,000 is needed annually to pay for loans.
Some $177,072 is owed in back sewer fees including a trailer park that owes $50,000 but has not reached the stage of foreclosure.
Resident and landlord, Wayne Knowlton said this is a Band-Aid fix and there is no stopping the rates from continuing to increase.
“You’re going to come back for more money,” he said.
One town he knows of raised $30,000 through taxation for several years to get the Sewer Department out of debt, he said.
“In my opinion, the sewer is the town,” Knowlton said, and without it, there would be no commerce.
It is physically impossible for users to pay for all of the upgrades and the treatment plant repairs, he said.
Sewer users pay for the entire sewer system including the plant. Jay pays 54 percent for the wastewater treated at the plant from that town for maintenance and operation of the Livermore Falls Wastewater Treatment Plant. Livermore Falls pays 46 percent.
The town has lost businesses and has vacant buildings that previously paid for sewer including the middle school, Knowlton said.
“We’ve got to do something here,” resident and landlord, Kenny Jacques said.
He and Knowlton said the whole town should pay toward the plant’s upkeep and sewer infrastructure.
What worries him, board Chairman Bill Demaray said, is that if people cannot afford to pay the back sewer fees now, how would they pay for an increase. He suggested the board look at putting an article to voters at the annual town meeting to help address the situation.
Jacques said that he doesn’t mind paying for paving roads not in the downtown area. It should be the same for those who don’t have sewer, he said.
He suggested the town dip into its $1 million undesignated fund to help offset costs. The money is to run the town for three months in case of an emergency.
Selectman Ken Pelletier said that if those not on town sewer have to pay for the system, that would make taxes rise.
He asked if sewer users were going to help pay for his septic system when it needs to be emptied or rebuilt.
“Why should I have to pay?” Pelletier asked.
Flagg said she has heard it all from both sides but something needs to be done.
If the tax rate was raised $1 per $1,000 of valuation for one year, it would bring in about $157,000, resident Ron Chadwick said.
Demaray, who has town sewer, said it was going to be a hard sell to taxpayers who don’t have sewer.
It’s going to be a war between sewer users and non users, Knowlton said.