GARDINER — Beginning in January, the minimum sewer rate in Gardiner is to increase 30%, bringing the quarterly sewer payment for that portion of the bill from $110.08 to $143.11.

The increase, which follows 4% increases in each of the past five years, comes because the costs to operate the city’s wastewater treatment plant and collection system have increased, with more cost increases expected, at the same time that revenue has dropped.

Gardiner’s wastewater treatment is an enterprise fund, which means its operations are funded by the its users pay. It is not supported by the city’s property tax revenue.

City Manager Andrew Carlton said several sewer-related emergencies, including the failure of the sewer line running down Church Street just as the city and wastewater budgets were being approved earlier this year, have depleted the budget to the point the wastewater department would not be able to operate.

At the same time, electric rates have increased, and the wastewater treatment plant is the largest single user of electricity in Gardiner.

Carlton said parts for the control system are no longer available, and they have to be sourced from eBay.


‘The cost of chemicals is going up, and we’re going to have to add a new chemical,” Carlton said, noting the requirement is coming from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. “It’s an unfunded mandate. I’m not saying it’s bad, because we’re keeping the environment clean, but they get passed down from the state, and we have to do them.”

At a presentation earlier this month on the proposed increase, Carlton said the higher rate would add about $200,000 in revenue, filling the budget hole; help build reserves; and help pay the costs of a second phase of improvements to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

In 2021, the $3.5 million wastewater treatment plant upgrade got underway, upgrading the treatment facilities at the plant on River Avenue.

In the second phase, the Maine Avenue pump station’s motor control center would be upgraded, and the treatment plant would get a new generator and computerized control systems.

Unlike the previous increases, though, the move that Gardiner’s elected officials unanimously approved Wednesday will be applied only to the minimum quarterly charge, instead of the minimum and the usage charges.

Sewer rates are calculated based on water use. The minimum quarterly rate covers the use of 1,200 cubic feet of water. Sewer ratepayers are charged an additional fee for every 100 cubic feet of flow exceeding 1,200.


An increase on both parts of the bill has had higher impact on families, particularly those who have children and do a lot of laundry.

“If we do an increase on the minimum, everyone shares the same pain, and it spreads across the board so every user feels it,” Carlton said.

Doug Clark, Gardiner’s wastewater director, said when residents see their power bills increase, they turn off extra lights, and they are doing the same to control their water and sewer bills.

“People are becoming more frugal and are more aware of water — that it’s liquid gold coming out of the faucet,” Clark said.

And while more homes are being built in Gardiner and businesses continue to operate, Clark said they are doing so with more efficient fixtures and appliances.

At-Large City Councilor Russell Greenleaf said water usage has been down this year because people have not had to water their lawns due to the rainy summer in central Maine.

Carlton said Gardiner’s minimum sewer fee is among the lowest in central Maine, and with the increase will still be less than Augusta’s.

The increase is to go into effect with the January 2024 bill.

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