Questions abound over proposed sewer user rules

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

There were many questions Tuesday as users of the sewer system serving downtown Bridgton struggled to understand how proposed changes to the system’s rate structure would affect them. The public hearing lasted nearly an hour.

Some, like Kit Foster, wondered if the upcoming Nov. 3 referendum on a revised sewer ordinance was being rushed before voters truly understood its impact.

“You’ve got me so confused, I don’t know whether I’m coming or going,” said Foster, owner of a multi-tenant retail building at 158 Main Street.

Ever since the system was built in 1975, its users have been issued connection permits that were based on Maine Subsurface Wastewater Rules for different types of uses. They purchased an allocation based on those flow rates, and were allowed to buy excess allocation in anticipation of future expansion.

Under the revised ordinance, a new formula for assessing service charges has been created that will better position the town for expansion of the system, explained Brent Bridges, an engineer for Woodard & Curran, hired by the town to help the Wastewater Committee craft the changes.

“We’ve changed it so (charges) are not just on sewage use, but based on debt retirement, operational costs, flow rates and a reserve account fee,” Bridges said. “Our goal is that only the future users of the system would be paying for the system.” Instead of basing rates on individual users, the new system looks at a collection of users, he explained.

The practice of allowing users to buy excess allocation would be eliminated, and those who have already purchased excess allocation and don’t use it by June of 2021 would have their payment refunded.

Peter and Judy Oberg, who own the Oberg Insurance building on Main Street, sought assurances that their building’s assigned sewer capacity wouldn’t lessen when the current allocation system is changed to that of “equivalent user units.”

“Anyone who has contributed to the system so far, those benefits wouldn’t be lost,” Bridges said, adding, “To the best of my ability, I tried.”

Wastewater Committee Chairman Glen “Bear” Zaidman said one of the big benefits of the revisions would be that it would free up between 2,000 to 3,000 gallons per day of sewer capacity for future development. “If the ordinance changes, you’ll have some room for expansion,” he said.

Another reason a new service charge formula is needed is that it will favorably position the town should it apply for state and federal money for expanding the sewer system.

“So if I’ve got 100 gallons (of sewage capacity) and I’m only using 50…” said Foster, to which Bridges replied, “You’d pay less. That’s the fairness piece.”

Another fairness piece in the changes is that a “readiness-to-serve” fee would be charged to properties on the sewer line regardless of whether any sewage is being generated.

Dan Macdonald, who owns several vacant commercial buildings in Pondicherry Square, asked whether thought has been given to the economic impact of the changes on property owners who will face new fees.

Zaidman countered that the changes, by freeing up excess capacity, should stimulate new development. Both of the leach fields serving the system are very near maximum capacity, he said.

“Those people who are flowing are paying for everything” under the current rules, Zaidman said.

Macdonald pointed out, however, that he and others who hooked into the system from the beginning have “floated the bill to get this going to start with.”

Town Manager Bob Peabody said Tuesday’s public hearing will be the only public hearing on the proposed ordinance before it goes to voters on Tuesday, Nov. 3.

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