BUCKFIELD — At its March 18 meeting, the Buckfield Village Corporation (BVC) Board of Assessors voted to cancel their annual meeting in light of new statewide gathering restrictions and also discussed their first rate increase request in 12 years.

In response to Gov. Janet Mills’ most recent executive order issued Wednesday prohibiting the gathering of 10 or more people until further notice, the assessors unanimously voted to cancel the BVC’s annual meeting set for Tuesday, March 24, and reschedule it once gathering restrictions have been lifted. The BVC is the water district in Buckfield that serves 151 customers. The assessors also utilized a portion of the governor’s previous order allowing public entities to meet by remote participation and hosted their meeting via phone.

After some discussion, the assessors agreed there wasn’t any way to conduct the annual meeting that would be fair to ratepayers and follow the new statewide gathering limits. Assessor Chair Colleen Halse said the BVC’s rate increase application is almost complete and they’re just waiting for some additional financial and fire information before sending it to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

She explained after the meeting how her perspective about the BVC’s water rates shifted after becoming elected assessor and learning the water district was in the red. “I originally attended meetings before I joined the board and basically gave them a hard time [that] our water was so expensive,” Halse said. “The reality is we have such a small customer base. We have all the responsibilities and scale of a … water district without the clients to actually support it.”

Assessors have asked for a 15% increase of rates across the board. This is the first rate increase request since 2008. Since 2009, the BVC’s net expenses were higher than its income for seven of those years. In 2009, the BVC was in the red by $24,228; in 2010 by $2,661; in 2014 by $4,915; in 2015 by $4,342; in 2017 by $20,005; in 2018 by $11,082 and in 2019 by $11,179, according to a BVC document. This totals a loss of $77,412.

For residential properties, the proposed water rates would increase from $161 a quarter to $185.15. That is an annual increase of $97.80. For municipal buildings and properties, the town would go from paying $58,158 annually to $66,883, if the higher rates were approved. “No one wants to raise rates. These are challenging times for people and they’re getting more difficult right now,” Halse said. “This is last thing we want to do and we have no choice.” If the BVC’s rate increase request is approved by the PUC, then the a public hearing will be held on the matter at a later date.

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