ELLSWORTH, Maine — Councilors on Monday approved a change in the city’s sewer rate structure that will give a break to low-volume users.
The change will reduce the minimum sewer use level from 1,200 cubic feet to 900 cubic feet. That adjustment will ease the impact of a rate increase approved by the council in November, and result in a much smaller rate increase for those who use 900 cubic feet or less per quarter.
Councilors approved the rate increase in connection with construction of the new wastewater treatment plant, increasing the base rate from $4.16 to $5.61 per 100 cubic feet. Under the 1,200 cubic foot minimum, the quarterly rate would have jumped from $49.95 to $67.32.
Under the new 900 cubic foot minimum, the increase for low-volume users will be just 54 cents per quarter, to $50.49.
City Finance Director Tammy Mote said councilors had heard from some users, particularly elderly residents, who were concerned about the financial impact of those increases. Minimum users, she said, are mainly single people living alone.
Mote said the change would affect about 10 percent of the approximately 1,500 sewer users and would result in a loss of about $36,000 in revenue. She proposed no other rate changes to recoup those losses.
The overall rate increase is expected to raise revenues by about $225,000.
Council Chairman Gary Fortier said the adjustment would affect mainly senior and low-income residents who had raised concerns about the rate increases.
“We have to listen to that,” he said.
Councilor Pam Perkins agreed, adding that some of the comments made during a public hearing on the rate increases were “fairly poignant. I think we need to be responsive to those people.”
Councilor Stephen Beathem said that when the city raised its water rates recently, the council adjusted the minimum rate to 900 cubic feet, easing the impact of that rate increase.
“It was more of an issue for a single person living along on a fixed income,” he said. “That’s just what were doing here.”
Councilor John Moore said the rate increase was just the first in a planned series of increases to help pay for the new treatment plant and that rates will continue to increase over time.
“This will mean a little less sticker shock, especially for those on a fixed income,” he said. “But there is a caveat; there likely will be continued increases in the future.”
Mote said the city would continue to review rates and evaluate the costs of operations as well as additional revenue from new development before determining whether more rate increases are needed.
Work on a section of the project already has been completed, including installation of new sewer lines to the plant site. Construction on the plant itself will begin this year. It is scheduled to be up and running by March 2013.