June 23, 2018
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Veazie sewer trustees set rate hearing in bid to solve budget crunch

By Dawn Gagnon, BDN Staff

VEAZIE, Maine — With its reserves spent and operating costs mounting, Veazie Sewer District board of trustees Monday night set the date for a public hearing to discuss a proposed rate hike they say is needed to cover expenses and meet other needs, including debt repayment.

The hearing will be conducted during a board meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 26. The location has yet to be determined.

During Monday’s meeting, which was more subdued and more lightly attended than most in recent months, Chairman Rob Tomilson and Trustee James Parker said ratepayers will receive letters providing details about the hearing and rate increase in the next few weeks.

Although the district’s auditor, Nick Henry of Horton, McFarland & Veysey, has provided trustees some projections, they have have yet to calculate exactly how much of a rate increase is needed because they are still looking at a number of variables.

Those include:

• How much longer the district will need the services of Woodard & Curran, the consultant hired to run the plant after former operator Gary Brooks and two other employees resigned last year. The district is paying the firm $14,000 a month.

• How many employees the district will have in the future, and how much they will be paid.

• How much money the trustees decide is needed to replenish the district’s reserve accounts, which were depleted over the last several years to cover operating costs.

The sewer district board has been working on restructuring since last summer, when former operator Gary Brooks, who had worked for the district for 23 years, abruptly resigned at the end of an August board meeting during which the district’s auditor reported that the utility was running out of money.

During that meeting, the auditor pegged annual operating costs at about $525,000 and revenues at roughly $475,000, resulting in a $50,000 gap. Trustees also learned that most of the money that had been set aside for long-term needs, such as equipment replacement, had been used for operating costs.

Next to resign were plant operator Travis Day and Tammy Olson, the office manager. Brooks and Day were full-time employees, while Olson worked 20 hours a week. The wave of resignations that left the utility with a single full-time employee.

The most recent resignation came during an emergency meeting on Nov. 8 during which trustee Gary Brown resigned.

Since then, day-to-day operations have been handled by the remaining employee and Harvey King, a licensed operator provided by Woodard & Curran.

Under the current rate structure, users pay a $25 base fee and a usage fee of $4.16 for every 100 cubic feet of water they use each billing quarter. Under the proposed amended rate structure, sewer users would pay a similar — but higher — usage fee but instead of a base fee, they would pay a debt service fee and a reserve fee.

Although rates likely will be higher over the next few years, there is a potential that they will decrease in subsequent years, Parker said.

Tomilson and Parker previously said that the Veazie plant had been operating with the equivalent of 3½ full-time employees for the past several years. At Monday’s meeting, Parker said he believed the sewer operation could be run with fewer people.

A staffing and salary study done by Woodard and Curran bore that out. The report concluded that the plant could be operated by as few as two full-time employees or one full-time and two part-time workers — fewer if the district shared clerical services with the town office.

In addition, the board is exploring a suggestion made by King to see if the plant can be reclassified from a Grade III facility to a Grade II facility.

If the state approves the move, daily operations would remain the same, Parker said. What would change is that the plant could be run by an operator with less certification and experience.

That, Parker said, means that the remaining employee could operate the plant without additional training.

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