BETHEL — Bethel selectmen Monday began discussion on how to raise sewer rates while causing the least pain among the 550 treatment plant users.

Rates have remained the same for three years, but the treatment plant is now facing a revenue shortfall that will require an increase in order to fund the sewer system, town officials said.

The WWTP needs $708,693 in revenue for 2020. Total revenue receipts for 2019 were $534,453.

Not all Bethel property owners are on the sewer system, since many have their own septic systems.

Currently sewer users are charged a quarterly base rate of $159, which entitles them to 1,500 cubic feet of water.  Any usage over that is charged at a rate of $10.60 per 100 cubic feet.

In their discussion Monday selectmen said they could consider several options: increasing the base rate; decreasing the 1,500 cubic feet in order to start taking in overage money at a lower volume; increasing the overage charge; or some combination of those factors.

They speculated that upping the overage charge would likely impact high-using businesses the most. Currently, a total of 119 users go over the 1,500 cubic feet allotted per quarter.

Selectman Andy Whitney said he believed that the board would likely need to use some combination of rate changes to address the revenue problem.

The board had tried in 2016 to spread the financial burden by splitting some multi-unit buildings into individual user units, adding to the total number of units in town to be billed.  But that triggered objections from multi-unit property owners who saw their rates skyrocket because of the new designation. As a result the selectboard suspended those increases while they directed WWTP personnel to survey the town to try to get a more accurate picture of where multiple units were located, in order to designate them more fairly overall.

On Monday WWTP Superintendent Rick Davis said he thought that survey has now been accomplished to the extent possible, given the access they have been allowed to units.

Selectboard Chairman Peter Southam said that in the longer term, wastewater capital improvement costs should be funded through taxes assessed to the entire town, rather than just the users.  He said that everyone living in Bethel benefits from having a treatment plant for the village.

Selectmen noted one bright spot for the near future: some WWTP debt will be retired in the next year.

The board decided they want to have more data on usage before deciding on a proposal.  Another workshop meeting will be scheduled next month.

Before selectmen can finalize any rate changes, they would be required to hold a public hearing.

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