FREEPORT — Customers will have the opportunity Nov. 19 to discuss a proposed sewer rate increase of 6 percent for residents and 8 percent for commercial users over the next two years.
The Freeport Sewer District will hold the public hearing at 43 South Freeport Road, at 6:30 p.m. Monday.
According to Leland Arris, general manager of the Freeport Sewer District, debt from both planned and unplanned maintenance projects in recent years is the reason for the proposed rate increase, which is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.
Arris said the average residential account for 2018 is projected at $579 per year, or $48 per month. In 2019, the average residential account is projected to cost $614.50.
With the increase factored in, residential ratepayers will be paying an additional $2.89 per month in 2019, and an additional $3.07 per month in 2020.
Arris said generally speaking, infrastructure within the sewer district is “really old,” with a system that was built in 1974 and some equipment that has not been updated.
The typical lifespan for motors and pumps in sewer districts, he added, is 20 years.
Another driver behind the jump is an emergency in winter 2017 that led to 15 force main breaks along Route 1 over the course of 40 days.
Arris said the incidents forced the district to hire an engineer to study the breaks and design a replacement for 2,200 feet of pipeline.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection, he said, made $802,000 available to the sewer district for the repairs, which factors out to a $47,000 payment required of the district every year for the next 20 years.
A planned project to update three pumps along the Harraseeket River, he said, will leave the sewer district with another $17,000 in debt, with debt service beginning in 2019.
Added on to the $17,000 of planned debt, Arris said the additional unplanned debt leaves the district with $64,000 to pay off.
“That’s really why instead of the 4 percent increase we would prefer to do, we were forced to meet that debt,” he said.
The reason the rate increase for commercial accounts is higher than residential , Arris added, is infrastructure changes the district has had to make because of hotel and restaurant sewerage.
“We’ve had to add some special equipment into our projects at two pump stations here in town that deal with grease,” he said.
In addition to the public hearing Nov. 19, Arris said the sewer district will also hold a public hearing Dec. 17, also at 6:30 p.m. at the sewer district.
Residents will also receive a letter from the district explaining the reason for the rate increases, including the district’s history of infrastructure and repairs.
“The idea is, everybody has an ample opportunity to understand how it impacts them,” Arris said.