SPENCER – Rates for users of the town’s sewer system will rise between 15 and 30 percent after commissioners “reluctantly” voted to approve the hike at a public hearing on Thursday (Feb. 8, 2024).
The increases are needed because of the costs of upgrades to the town’s wastewater treatment system mandated by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Protection, Commission Chairman Frank White explained.
White also explained that in July, the department must start paying back an interest-free loan which was reduced to about $40 million but is also part of the reason rates need to be increased.
The additional funds from the increases will help pay for work to reduce “inflow and infiltration,” plant Superintendent James LaPlante explained.
Heavy rains and illegal pumps that send water into the sewer system contribute to increased I and I, as it is known, White said.
The commission will also need to hire another employee to staff the new treatment plant and there are plans to inspect homes suspected of pumping into the system, officials said, noting that it’s been difficult to find qualified candidates.
While some residents expressed concerns about the increasing rates, other sewer users seemed to understand the need.
James Pervier said he understands even though many residents have their own septic systems, they still use the waste water treatment plant when their own systems are pumped and the septage is processed locally.
While he doesn’t want to see taxes increased, he wondered whether all residents should be paying to run the wastewater system. Officials said that would require a town vote and likely an override of tax-limiting Proposition 2 ½.
Still, Pervier urged the commission to try to have a conversation with residents about the possibility, though White said a similar effort several years ago wasn’t met favorably by voters.
“We truly all use it in one way or another,” Pervier said.
Officials said they crafted the increases so that elderly and low-income residents would see a lesser impact and had even considered no increases for those with an output of fewer than 1,500 cubic-feet but because that group is 25 percent of the user group, a small increase was necessary.
Those using more cubic feet, including commercial properties, will see an increase of double what the smaller users will face.
The increases will be:
15 percent for users of 1-1,000 cubic feet,
25 percent for users of 1,001-5,000 cubic feet,
and 30 percent for users of 5,001-9,999 cubic feet