Non-users may have to pay Brunswick sewer fee

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BRUNSWICK — The Town Council created a task force Monday to discuss possible changes to the Sewer District charter and ordinances, including what one councilor called “charging people a fee and providing no service.”

District General Manager Lenny Blanchette outlined three proposals for the task force to consider, all of which are intended to foster public sewer extensions in the town’s growth zone. 

Blanchette said a task force is warranted because a potential change in the district charter would mean lot-owners near a newly extended sewer line would have to pay a fee – even if there is a private septic system on site.

The charter says the district must reimburse rate-payers for the cost of sewer extensions over 10 years (since rate-payers are charged for service, not expansion). Blanchette said if the town wants to encourage the district to expand public sewers in the growth zone, it will have a difficult time paying rate-payers back within that time frame.

By charging a “readiness to serve” fee to privately serviced homes near sewer lines, the district would effectively get service fees in advance. Blanchette explained that when these lots eventually do connect to public sewer, lot owners will have already paid toward the assessed cost of connecting.

State law mandates lot-ownerss within 200 feet of a sewer line must connect to the public sewer in case their standalone septic systems fail. Blanchette said septic systems have an life span of 20 years, meaning by law, most homes will eventually have to hook up to the pubic sewer.

“This just allows the district rate-payers to recoup their investment a lot sooner,” he said.

The proposed fee would likely be calculated based on the cost of extending the sewer, divided by the number of serviceable lots.

Councilor John Perreault pointed out the controversial nature of the proposal, which would be “charging people a fee and providing no service.”

The District is also proposing an ordinance change that would require new developments built in the growth zone to connect to public sewer.

“There is an additional difficulty when developers build small developments in the growth zone,” Charles Priest, chairman of the Sewer District Board of Trustees, wrote in a letter to the council. “The small size of a development would seem not to require a large sewer pipe or pump station. However, when likely future development in the area surrounding the initial development is considered, there is a need for much larger and more expensive sewer pipe and pump stations.”

The ordinance would be written with flexibility to assess developments and cases on “in a reasonable, case-by-case” manner, Blanchette said, adding that “you wouldn’t want an ordinance that has no flexibility.”

Of all the proposed revisions, he said, “(The district) would like to see a change in the paradigm where we (the district) can be more proactive than reactive.”

In other words, the readiness-to-pay charge and mandated public sewer hook up puts the district in a position to intelligently plan sewer extension in places the town has already stated it wants to encourage development. Public sewer expansion is listed as a a goal in the town’s 2008 Comprehensive Plan, Blanchette noted Monday.

Lastly, the district would like the town to look into ways to find grants and outside funding to promote the growth of the public sewer system.

Since the district’s goals are the town’s goals, and vice versa, he said, he hopes the town will make itself a partner in expanding the sewer service.

The task force will be made up of town staff, although they may not have a chance to weigh in on the proposed change to the charter.

Blanchette said charter changes must be approved by the Legislature, but only after Town Council approval. In order to submit a bill for the 2017 legislative session, Blanchette said the council would have to approve the change within the month. 

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

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Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net.