NORWAY – Selectmen unanimously approved a $484,076 sewer budget Thursday night, an increase of almost $27,000, but held off on increasing the sewer rate.

Instead, the board agreed to increase the number of units billed in order to raise enough money to support the new budget. The number of sewer billing units will match the number of units the assessor taxes. Officials said that a review of the assessor’s numbers showed that the Sewer Department was underbilling some and overbilling others.

Within an hour-long public hearing, during which owners of apartment complexes expressed concern about selectmen increasing both the sewer rates and the number of units they are billed for, selectmen agreed a phased-in approach to meeting budget requirements was in order.

The board agreed unanimously to increase the number of units billed from 1,636 to 1,806 – a move that officials say will bring in more revenue to the Sewer Department and make the billing system more equitable.

Town Manager David Holt said that the town will be hard-pressed to meet the growing budgetary demands of the Sewer Department in the future without also increasing the sewer rate, but agreed it would be unfair to hit those who will be billed additional units this year with a rate increase at the same time.

Holt said the problem is that customers are becoming too good at water conservation and the Sewer Department is not seeing the high use it needs to bring in enough money to pay for budgetary needs such as escalating electrical costs.

“We can’t run the system and the billing we have now because there’s so much conservation going on,” Holt said.

The Sewer Department will be implementing a first-in-the state solar energy system this year, and because of that, some selectmen said that they would prefer to hold off on a rate hike to see if the department’s electrical costs can be reduced through the new project.

Holt said that even if the rate hike had been implemented, Norway has one of the lowest rates in the state.

The approved budget includes an $6,681 increase in salaries from the fiscal 2007 expenditure of $85,181 to the projected fiscal 2008 expenditure of $92,052; a $12 increase in the overtime line item from $3,600 in fiscal year 2007 to $3,612 in fiscal year 2008, and a $1,881 jump in health insurance costs from $23,700 to $25,581 during the same time period.

Fixed costs in the areas of debt service, capital improvements projects, safety equipment and other line items remain the same while the waste water sludge account jumped $5,000 from the $10,000 expenditure in fiscal 2007 to the project $15,000 expenditure in fiscal 2008.

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