Town tapes promotional TV show on sewer vote

SEWER TALK — A half-hour program taped Monday by Lake Region Television explained the need behind the updates to Bridgton’s Sewer Ordinance, up for a vote on Tuesday, June 14. From left are Town Manager Bob Peabody; Drew Robbins, owner of a new 59 Main Street business, Nectar, to open in mid-June; Carrye Castleman-Ross, owner of the Depot Street Tap House; and Selectman Bob McHatton.

SEWER TALK — A half-hour program taped Monday by Lake Region Television explained the need behind the updates to Bridgton’s Sewer Ordinance, up for a vote on Tuesday, June 14. From left are Town Manager Bob Peabody; Drew Robbins, owner of a new 59 Main Street business, Nectar, to open in mid-June; Carrye Castleman-Ross, owner of the Depot Street Tap House; and Selectman Bob McHatton.

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

(Editor’s Note: Bridgton Selectman Bob McHatton did a video interview with Bridgton Town Manager Bob Peabody and two downtown businesspeople, Carrye Castelman-Ross, owner of the Depot Street Tap House, and Drew Robbins, owner of a new business at 59 Main Street called Nectar. The program, produced by Lake Region Television, explained revisions to the downtown sewer ordinance and encouraged residents to approve those revisions by voting “yes” on Question 1 when they go to the polls on Tuesday, June 14. What follows is an edited transcript of the interview. To view the entire program, visit www.lakeregiontv.org

Bob McHatton: When we last put the (revised wastewater ordinance) before the voters last November, there was a lot of misinformation put out at the eleventh hour, primarily that we were putting in a brand new sewer system for $23 million. That’s absolutely not true. (The question before voters) is an update of the sewer ordinance, which is over 20 years old, to bring us up to today’s sewer laws and allow us to increase our capacity. This would bring us around 7,000 gallons of capacity we’d be able to use. Right now the town of Bridgton is shut off; we cannot do any new business. If this passes, there’s three businesses standing by (waiting to purchase sewer allocation), and we’d be able to meet their needs.

Bob Peabody: I drew the short straw to explain the technical aspects of the (updated) wastewater ordinance. Our system is comprised of two parts — lower Main Street to Methodist Hill, and Methodist Hill to Highland Road. There are approximately 73 users on the system, comprised of both residential and commercial properties.

It’s important to know (the question before voters is) a revision of the current ordinance. It’s better clarified, better explained. One critical difference is in how we determine what allocation you need to be on our system. Our current allocation system operates on subsurface wastewater rules; it acts as if each property is an island unto itself, which isn’t true. It’s part of a system. When we do calculations (under the current system), we have to assume you are a stand-alone system, and the numbers are higher than they need to be under a municipal system.

Under the new ordinance, we look at the system as it truly is, a municipal system. We could welcome new business and homes, but we can’t, because on paper that allocation is used up. (The revised ordinance will) free up 7,000 gallons (of capacity) — that’s 77 new apartments, or a 30-seat restaurant that serves three meals a day. We could have 15 new restaurants in town.

Also, (the revised ordinance) brings fairness — everybody pays their fair share. Under the current ordinance, that’s not the case. Which is not to say people are being treated unfairly, (it’s just that) we have some people paying too much for the sewer now, and some people paying too little.

So there are two reasons (for the revised ordinance). We build in fairness, and we open up our town to possibilities, of new businesses, new residential development — and with that possibility comes a positive tax impact. This ordinance doesn’t change your taxes at all. More people contributing to the tax base means, all things being equal, your taxes go down.

McHatton: A question that comes up is, am I losing anything?

Peabody: No. You have the allocation you need for your business. There’s nothing lost, and the gain is to the town as a whole.

McHatton: How will it affect town taxes?

Peabody: New development will increase the town’s valuation, and that’s new real estate taxes paid to the town.

McHatton: If a person is not on the sewer system, how will it affect their taxes?

Peabody: It doesn’t affect their taxes at all.

McHatton: (To Castleman-Ross and Robbins) Tell us a little bit about your businesses and what your thoughts are on the updated ordinance.

Carrye Castleman-Ross: I’ve seen over the past three years a real growth in the downtown, and an interest in the town of Bridgton. However, several local businesses are shovel-ready and have been green lit, and they are not able to get the sewer allocation they need. (These are) a business like mine — locally-owned, small, something that would add to the character of Bridgton. I would like Bridgton to grow smart. Slow, smart growth — and we can’t do that if our hands are tied.

Drew Robbins: I’m opening a business at 59 Main Street (across from Shorey Park) called Nectar, dedicated to plant-based wellness. We’ll have a variety of smoothies in front, and in the back a retail section selling hemp clothing and hemp accessories. (The revised ordinance is) necessary for this town. It’s a common sense issue. To be held up with misinformation seems silly to me. It’s a no-brainer. I moved here two years ago, and it’s amazing, the transformation in town. And it needs to continue.

McHatton: Now what about folks on the system who have allocation on the system that’s not being used, and are going to lose that?

Peabody: Nothing is being lost. You need a certain amount of gallonage to operate your business. All we’re doing is changing the way that that is measured. So there’s nothing lost, nothing gained. Now, some folks in the past purchased excess allocation, and those folks, they have a required amount (to operate), and there’s no change. But (as far as) the excess (allocation) they paid for, the new ordinance addresses that. It allows them up to 2021 to make use of that excess allocation; it gives them time to bring (their business development plans) to fruition. Most have owned (the excess allocation) for some time; their plans have not panned out, for whatever reason. In 2021, if they haven’t used it, we buy it back for what they paid for it. So they don’t lose anything.

McHatton: Some people have asked why the town is spending $10,000 to have a PR company (Next Generation Strategies) come in (to explain the ordinance)?

Peabody: It’s a very legitimate concern. This issue is of such importance to this town, I felt, and selectmen and the Wastewater Committee felt, we needed to tap expertise I don’t have, not does staff have, to reach out. It’s a matter of manpower and expertise. When you look at the affect this current ordinance has on this town, I would be remiss not to look at all the options. We didn’t hire a PR firm to sell our point of view; we hired a firm that is expert at getting information out to people. I believe an informed decision is a “yes” vote, and I think the facts bear that out. It’s too important an issue to be left to chance.

McHatton: Drew, why did you pick Bridgton?

Robbins: We picked Bridgton because of where it sits geographically. It’s close to Portland, North Conway. We did research on where the town was going, and it seemed to be moving in the right direction. We thought it was a cool little town. It’s got more character (than other towns); it’s got a downtown. It’s got a certain feel to it that other towns don’t have, even Portland.

McHatton: I’ve lived here 40 years, and sometimes you miss (realizing that). Carrye, how about you?

Castleman-Ross: I see so many younger people coming into Bridgton these days who say they see something unique about downtown, and honestly they’ve seen the success of the Tap House, and they know that (kind of business) is a viable option — if we can address this (sewer) issue. They can follow their dreams, start their business, contribute to the tax base — it really is a no-brainer. (They can) take the burden off of other residents and business property owners. I’m a residential property owner, too, and I could possibly see a lessening of my tax burden.

McHatton: Mr. Manager, if I was looking at this as a user, how is this going to affect my sewer bill? Will it go three or four times higher?

Peabody: It can’t go higher, because what you pay is based on the budget for the system. And our budget for the system is $100,000. I’ll be working on next year’s budget next month. What we have, in the current way of determining what you pay, is a rate based on how much you flow, and it doesn’t take into account all those aspects of running a system. If you don’t flow any — say your building’s vacant, but you’re hooked up to the system — you don’t pay anything. If you flow a lot, you pay a lot. The new ordinance addresses that. We have fixed costs that are necessary year after year, so those (users) not flowing at all will pick up some of those fixed costs. The people who are flowing a lot will actually see their bills diminish, because those fixed costs will be shared amongst all the users. I can’t give an answer to people who ask if their bill will go up or down; I have to look at your (individual) circumstances. The rule of thumb is much like your tax bill after a revaluation — a third will go up, a third will go down, and a third will see no change at all.

McHatton: This (Question 1) is only an update of the present sewer ordinance; it’s not creating a new ordinance. All it’s going to do is change the formula, so we can use a lot more gallons out there that are not being used today. Seven thousand gallons — that’s seven big businesses, if they need 1,000 gallons a day. Some people have said, what is behind this update? I’m going to tell you straight out, there’s nothing behind it, we’re not building a new system, we’re not upgrading the present system. (The cost) just to put in one (septic) field would be close to $800,000. Our system is divided into two parts; we can’t just put in one field and take care of all of the system.

This (updated ordinance) will give us time for the future, to look at all the options we have at how we want the town to grow. And if that’s a new system, we’ll have plenty of time to make the plans and figure out how to do that. And everybody will have full knowledge of that before a new system is even thought of.

Peabody: It’s really about fairness and opportunity. Change is going to come. I know people like things the way they are, but change is inevitable. We can either help direct that change, or have that change happen to us. This revised sewer ordinance is one way we can help direct that change.

McHatton: The polls are open Tuesday, June 14, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Get out and vote.

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