Residents speak out about increases in sewer rates

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After listening to the public speak out against proposed sewer rate changes, Selectwoman Samantha Hewey told the board that it needs to reconsider the impact of those changes on the residential customers.

OXFORD — The majority of selectmen agreed to table a request to change the sewer rates for the town’s wastewater treatment facility after Selectwoman Samantha Hewey said the town should be business friendly in its decision, but at the same time protect the interests of residents.

The board was asked to change the rates from $112.50 a unit, per quarter to $56 a unit per quarter for businesses and $2 per 100 cubic feet of water consumption to $5.90 per 100 cubic feet of water consumption for residences.

The recommendation by Town Manager Butch Asselin was made at the board’s September 20 meeting.

“The idea was to make it as fair as it could be,” said Asselin of the business rates that would be cut in half. “We want to make it business friendly.”

Asselin said some businesses use a lot of water while others use very little and while residential rates would increase by almost $3 per unit, Asselin said he suspected many residents, for example, are using more water than necessary in watering their lawn and similar activities. In those cases, submeters could be installed to separate out that water usage from the metered. Oxford Casino, for example, may do that, he said. 

Additionally, he said, the new rates would align Oxford with other area towns whose rates are predominantly higher. Norway is about $6, Ellsworth, $7 and Bangor $6 per unit, for example, he said.

The decision to change rates was prompted by concern expressed by one of the local businesses, he said. Of the 11 businesses hooked up, seven will see a reduction in rates, he said.

Resident Sharon Jackson, who is hooked up to the town system, told the board that she did not see the logic in changing the rates. She said the changes appear to “compensate” for the lack of overall hookups in town.

According to Jackson’s calculation her bill would increase by $79 under the proposed increases.

So far only 12 households and eight businesses have hooked up to the $28 million, state of the art facility treatment plant – a far less number than originally predicted.

At the time of its opening in 2016 the plant, which was built using funds from the USDA Rural Development and was the first in the state to use an ultra violet cleansing method, officials said by the end of its first full year in operation,  the project could provide 297 residents and 383 total users with a safe, efficient and environmentally responsible way to manage waste.

Getting large businesses to hook up was always considered essential.

At the time of the opening, project engineers said hooking Wal-Mart up, for example, would have the same effect as hooking up a large number of private homes. Wal-Mart recently declined, again, to hook up, but since the plant’s opening, other businesses, including the Oxford Casino Hotel have been added.

The facility is designed to grow with need.

The hookups are necessary to pay back the debt and to keep the plant fully functional with adequate water flows.

Jackson told selectmen she believes the that higher rates for residences  won’t sit well with prospective new customers.

“I can’t see anyone being interested in signing up for sewer,” said Jackson. “This is a major increase in consumption.” said Jackson of the proposed higher rates.

“It costs us more to get rid of dirty water than it does to bring in clean water,” said another resident who is hooked into the system and said her consumption is not based on watering her lawn, but more to do with the 15 loads of laundry she does  each week for her family, including four children.

“Let’s go back and take a closer look at the impacts before we move forward,” said Selectman Scott Hunter.

On three to one vote, with Selectman Floyd Thayer dissenting and Selectman Caldwell Jackson absent, the board agreed to table the matter pending further investigation.

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