Yarmouth council raises possibility of sewer user fees

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YARMOUTH — While most town councilors seem opposed to charging residents a sewer fee, the Town Council will bring the matter to a formal vote in November.

About 2,500 households are connected to the public system and pay for the service through their property taxes. But an estimated 1,000 households not connected to the system also pay for it through their property taxes, even though use septic or other private waste removal systems.

Councilor Tim Sanders, a resident of Lafayette Street, brought the topic to the council at an Operations Committee meeting Monday night.

He said as one of the nearly 1,000 homeowners not on the sewer line, he favors establishing a user fee. Unlike the use of the schools, the town dump, and emergency medical services, he said, the sewer connection is the only service Yarmouth charges all residents for that not everyone can use.

“Everyone of those people, all 1,000 of them, wish they were (on the sewer line), but they can’t (be),” he said. “I think people who benefit from the sewer should pay for it. It’s fairness.”

While residents are charged for the use of the sewer lines, nonprofit organizations, schools, the Tourist Visitor Center on Route 1, churches and veteran associations are not charged, Town Manager Nat Tupper said. He also said that after an analysis was completed in the mid 1990s, it was determined not to extend the sewer lines to Little John and sections of Cousins Island.

Instead, the town would help residents pay for a septic system pump-out every three years, and help replace, up to $6,000, failing septic systems.

The council recently stopped funding the septic replacement account, and residents who need the service are being placed on a waiting list until the funds are available.

Tupper said if the council agrees to pursue sewer fees, it must determine how to assess and administer the fees, how to apply fees to households and businesses of varying sizes, and how the fees would be used: for sewer line maintenance or property tax relief.

But a straw poll vote indicated councilors are not in favor of pursuing a sewer fee structure, although they do want to give the public an opportunity to discuss the matter.

Councilor Leslie Hyde said she does not like the idea of sewer fees, but is concerned about the sewer infrastructure and the need to maintain and upgrade the system.

“I worry about the elderly, people on fixed incomes, having nonprofits pay, and then promoting business here,” she said. “There is a lot to consider.”

Councilor Randall Bates said he, too, is against sewer fees, but sees the issue as every resident paying for a service that benefits the entire community.

“The issue raises more questions than answers,” he said. “But based on what I’ve heard, this is worth exploring.”

Councilor Erv Bickford, who noted the issue has come before the council in the 1980s and 1990s, said the discussion needs to take place in a public setting.

“It’s time to have a formal vote in public and put it to bed,” he said.

The council is expected to discuss the fees in a second Operations Committee meeting on Monday, Oct. 17, then schedule a public hearing in November.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @amy_k_anderson.

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