Hook up or put up: Oxford taxpayers must pay for lack of sewer use

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The Oxford Wastewater Treatment Plant was dedicated in a ceremony in October 2016.

OXFORD — Only 22 customers support the $28.5 million wastewater treatment plant.

Almost a year after the state’s first ultra-violet light wastewater treatment system opened near the intersection of routes 26 and 121 in the Welchville section of town, local officials say they need more customers to financially and operationally support the system.

Many more customers.

“If you only have 22 users you can’t charge enough money to maintain the system. It also effects effluent to operate it,” said Interim Town Manager Becky Lippincott.

Part of the problem will be addressed at the Saturday, June 10 annual town meeting when voters will be asked to raise and appropriate $1,272,782 for the wastewater treatment account.

“The bond to finance [the treatment plant] has to be paid back,” she said.

The lack of users and existing TIF money is not enough to pay back the bond, nor is it enough to keep the gravity-fed system operating properly, Lippincott said. Effluent is now being shipped in from out of town to support the plant operation, she said.

When the plant was dedicated in October 2016, with a high profile ceremony that included Gov. Paul LePage, U.S. Congressman Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel and others, several large users were already on line, including the Oxford Casino. Dunkin’ Donuts was the first business to come on line in July 2016. The Hampton Inn began using the system in late 2016.

Sewer flow from the Oxford Casino and the Hampton Inn (which opened in late December 2016) was considered critical to the operation of the plant.

But local officials had predicted that by the end of its first full year in operation,  the project would be providing 297 residents and 383 total users with “a safe, efficient and environmentally responsible way” to manage waste.

That did not happen. Many homeowners questioned the need to go to the expense of hooking into the public system if their own system worked properly.

Now officials say they will be asking homeowners to reconsider.

Public meeting

The Board of Selectmen has called a public informational meeting on Wednesday, June 14, to remind residents and businesses owners about Oxford’s Sewer Connection Incentive program. The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the Oxford Town Office at 85 Pleasant St.

Residents will learn about how the program works, including hiring a contractor, connection costs and available loan programs.

The Sewer Connection Incentive program was developed to help eliminate water quality and service problems from failing septic systems but many homeowners balked at the opportunity, saying there was no need to tie into the public system as long as their system worked properly.

Each hookup cost would be different but selectmen said last year the hookup costs would probably range between $500 and $5,000 based on a number of variables ranging from topography to electrical service and distance from street.

As an incentive, the town proposed, and voters at the October 2016 special town meeting approved, transferring $250,000 from town funds to provide $500 subsidies for hookups through a revolving loan fund managed by selectmen.

Approval of that and several other articles also allowed a portion of the loans from a revolving loan fund program to be forgiven as an incentive to hook into the system and to facilitate repayment of the $250,000 to the Reserve Fund over 10 years.

The town is now also hoping to extend the sewer lines to Pleasant Street to tie in Oxford Elementary School.

Superintendent Rick Colpitts said last week that the town engineer met with the SAD 17 facilities director to discuss connection options.

“The board is aware of the planning but has not been asked to approve anything yet. I assume we will be notified when presented with a proposal,” he said.

The school has been approached about a possible hookup in the past but had not acted on it.

The wastewater treatment system was built over a three-year period to meet the needs of the growing community and provide a centralized wastewater collection, treatment, and disposal facility to accommodate the recent rise in commercial activities.

It was billed as a necessity to bring in more big business to the Route 26 area.

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net