DIXFIELD – Selectmen unanimously adopted a nearly $194,000 sewer department budget Monday that means the department’s 600 users will see an almost 40 percent increase in their quarterly bills.

The basic rate, including $12.50 toward the loan that built the system nearly 30 years ago, will go from $44.65 to $62.33.

Town Manager Tom Richmond said the last time a sewer increase was made was in 1989. The bills with the new rate will go out at the end of the month.

The new budget is an increase from $135,000 for the current year.

The hike is attributed to a variety of maintenance and preventative work planned to begin by autumn. Included among the projects for maintenance of the system are updating one of the pumping stations, cleaning and repair the pipes, GIS mapping, and separation of the storm-water system from sewage disposal.

Also, Richmond said, the sewer department should support itself. Currently, he said the department is $60,000 in debt to the town for its operation.

Cleaning of the system will take place over a four-year period by Ted Berry Co. of Livermore.

“Overall, the sewer rate increase will lower the number of catastrophic failures, lower the number of resident complaints, prolong the life of the system, and maintain Department of Environmental Protection compliance,” he said.

Whether the sewer department will take out a loan, if residential approval is granted, is not known yet.

If it does, then Richmond said repayment could begin once the system is paid in 2008.

“The auditor didn’t like the town paying for the sewer department,” Richmond said.

Some, however, questioned whether the sewer department’s debt to the town was real or purely on paper.

“It’s a paper debt,” said Ralph Clarke, “because Public Works works for sewer, water, the town, wherever needed.”

“This year we are racking up bills because of hourly wages attributed to this (sewer) account,” Richmond said.

Clarke said if the debt is labor cost, then the town and the sewer department should start from scratch.

Board Chairwoman Bettina Martin said a special town meeting would have to be called to ask that the debt be forgiven.

Selectman James Desjardins said the sewer department is independent.

“As a taxpayer, I don’t want to pay for sewerage if I don’t use it,” he said.

In other matters, selectmen delayed granting a liquor license to Roberta Bryant, owner of the soon-to-open restaurant and bar on Weld Street known as Hoppy’s Place.

Bryant wants to launch a family-style restaurant that would be opened from noon until midnight each day.

“I want to open a place so Dixfield people don’t have to go out of town,” she said.

Dan Louvat, who said he had been involved with bars and restaurants for many years, said Bryant’s new business will likely depend on a liquor license for late hours.

“I’ve seen places start out as a restaurant and a little entertainment, then become more entertainment and liquor,” he said.

Bryant said she has been in the restaurant business for more than 20 years and promised that behavior would be controlled. She said the restaurant will seat 50 people and will have home-style meals, along with a pool table, dart board, sing-alongs, karaoke and other amenities.

The board delayed action until they can review the town’s amusement ordinance and check into the number of parking spaces available at the future business site.

Also on Monday, the board agreed to allow the purchase of a 20-ton trailer at a cost of $14,910 from Nortrax Interstate Trailer in Hermon for use in moving the town’s backhoe to work sites. The funds will come from the equipment reserve account.