Town ready to present sewer ordinance, some business owners suggest more time needed

Editor’s note: In last week’s edition, a story regarding the proposed Bridgton Sewage Ordinance incorrectly stated there is 2,000 to 3,000 gallons of excess capacity remaining available. This was incorrect. The actual amount is 661 gallons at Wayside Avenue. The lower ballfield is at capacity. The article also incorrectly reported that the existing sewer system includes 55 users — the correct number is 73.

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

A group of local business owners support measures needed to improve Bridgton’s economy — including expanding the town’s sewer system.

However, they question whether residents have had adequate time to review, question and receive answers regarding elements of the proposed Sewage Ordinance set for a vote this Tuesday.

“We are responsible business people who want to see Bridgton reach its optimum,” Judy Oberg said. “But, I think a lot of people think this ordinance is simply something targeting businesses. It is not. It includes homeowners. It affects them, too.”

The group feels too many questions still exist, from whether their number of “users” within the building is accurate to what is the ultimate costs they will face.

For many, they are still wading through the ordinance and feel more time is needed to ask questions before a vote occurs.

“If I went in for a subdivision approval, as an owner, the planning board would require me to contact all abutters. Here’s my proposal and here is when the public hearing will be held,” Kit Foster said. “I know they have been working on this (an ordinance) for a year or two, but the first public hearing I was aware of, if it wasn’t for Peter (Oberg) who let me know about it, was a couple of weeks ago. I think there should be a couple of public hearings and the people who will be on this proposed expansion need to be contacted, and get their input and their questions answered. As I understand it, if the sewer line goes by your house and you have a perfectly good system and choose not to hook in, you are still charged a fee. We don’t know what the fees are.”

Peter Oberg agreed. “It is being thrown at us way too fast to digest,” he said. “This has woken people up. I think they should go to each existing user and tell them that this is what you pay now and this is what you would pay under the new plan. No one has done that.”

Bridgton Town Manager Bob Peabody, however, believes every effort has been made to inform voters and sees the proposal as a means to scrap an “antiquated” ordinance in favor of a current model that will present a better rate schedule, as well as open the door for local officials to seek out grants or favorable federal funding to expand the sewer system.

“A handful of people have come to the meetings or hearings, despite personal phone calls, articles and advertisements in the newspaper, on the town website. This has been a work-in-progress for well over a year,” Peabody said. “It is technical (the ordinance), but is really black and white.”

Townspeople will be voting on Tuesday on rules and how flow rates are charged out, but the group pointed out that the ordinance is the first step toward sewer system expansion.

Because development of the ordinance was a “long and involved” process, Hamaty believes the public rarely attended those sessions. While he is very appreciative of the efforts by the Wastewater Committee and selectmen, “now that they have come up with something, they need to give the people affected an opportunity to review, ask questions, get answers, ask more questions, if needed,” Hamaty said.

“Although the potential growth and development is positive for our town, right now, the people on the current system take the big financial hit. If they (town officials) were to say that everyone would share in the costs, then fine, but to require someone who doesn’t need the system to pay into the system, I don’t think that’s right.”

“I just don’t think people realize how comprehensive this is,” Judy Oberg said. “All of these side streets are included in the new system. Do they realize they are going to have to pay? We are already paying, but do they know? We’ve been told that if it is approved, it can be amended, which will need a town vote. That costs money.”

“Let’s get it right from the beginning, instead of keep fixing it,” Foster said. “We are prepared to roll up our sleeves and fully get involved. I think we have a better chance to have a better ordinance that will be productive for the town, and people will understand it. Let’s take it to a town vote in June.”

The group raised a variety of questions from how the town determines the number of users in a unit to why should a property owner with a usable septic system face a fee when he or she is not hooked into the current town system.

Chuck Hamaty is one such owner.

Two years ago, Hamaty discovered that his septic system at Maine Street Graphics was failing. So, he went to the town to find out if he could hook his business to the town’s system.

“We were told it was a very long, involved process, and unless you are unable to put a septic system on your current property, that would be the only way you could get on the system,” Hamaty said. “We were able to redo our system at a cost of $8,000 and now they are telling me I am going to have to pay toward this system when they wouldn’t let me come on. But, they won’t tell me how much.”

Peabody addressed Hamaty’s situation, saying, “In this case, there is a ‘readiness to serve (which is not a full rate).’ Catch 22 here, once gallonage is freed up, he can hook up but probably won’t until his system fails. If he sold his building, a potential purchaser is going to look at the ability to hook up to the system as a real plus. He could be a situation that when the Superintendent of Wastewater (Jim Kidder, the town’s Public Works Director) looks at it, he can make a judgment call, which he has the ability to do.”

If the town does pursue sewer expansion, which could occur by 2018, taxpayers could look at financing it either through users (those that “flow”) shouldering the budgetary brunt or spread the cost out to all taxpayers as a major infrastructure improvement.

“That’s up to the townspeople to decide,” Peabody said. “I’ve seen towns go both ways.”

Peabody pointed out, “The current system’s remaining capacity — the way we determine flow for 73 properties — has 661 gallons left. In reality, we have more capacity, but because we use an outdated way to determine flow rates, it has artificially tied our hands.”

Two new developments — Vivo, the new Italian restaurant on Depot Street and Justin McIver’s new office/restaurant complex at the corner of Cottage and Main Street — used up the remaining available gallons.

“In reality, we have more than that, but based on the current model, that’s the number we are working with,” Peabody noted.

Peabody says the existing rate structure is based on an individual system. His example is as follows:

A single-family house is assigned 1,200 gallons. They may not flow all 1,200 gallons in a day, but the system has to have the ability to handle it all.

Under a true flow model for a municipal system, which is being proposed, “rounding thing, you would be at 800,” the manager said. Under the new ordinance, the new flow model, you free up 400 gallons — which could help expand a business or build a new business, Peabody said.

“We need to adopt a true model, not one geared toward an individual system,” he added.

The existing rate structure has inequities, Peabody said. Currently, the rate is simply determined by flow and a budget.

“You look at last year’s flow, divide it into the budget, and determine a rate,” he said. “If you flow a little, you pay a little. If you flow a lot, you pay a lot. If you hook up to the system and don’t flow anything, you pay zero. Now, what is unfortunate about that, the system is aging, ongoing operational and maintenance costs exist, but if you are not flowing, you get a bye (no cost).”

The new structure has three basic components — debt service, operations and maintenance (fixed and operational costs), and capital reserve (money put aside for things that break down). Under this scenario, all equivalent users pay a fee.

The total cost, billed quarterly, includes an equivalent user fee, a capital reserve fee (the budget is $30,000) and a flow fee.

All numbers predicated by the budget, at this time is $96,000.

Another question was in regards to users and how that number is determined. Appeals regarding user designation and fees go to the town’s Appeals Board.

Peabody pointed out that the initial number of users assigned to existing system users was based on an estimate by a field engineer to get an “idea” what a probable equivalent user number would be.

“It was looking down the street and figuring what we have in here and there,” Peabody said. “Those numbers that were estimated are not part of the ordinance.”

The superintendent, Peabody pointed out, will make a more detailed visit or call to determine the user number.

“This is not a ‘us versus them’ situation. This is a partnership. A municipal system,” Peabody said.

 

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