HERMON, Maine — Residents and business owners had an opportunity last week to ask questions and weigh in on a $5.7 million proposal to extend public water and sewer service into the village center.
The proposal to expand sewer service is driven, in part, by the fact that the septic systems at Hermon High School and Hermon Middle School are aging and eventually will need to be replaced or upgraded at the town’s expense.
The water service expansion would solve the problem of hard water that has required homeowners and businesses to install expensive softening systems.
The owner of the local Dunkin Donuts franchise said during a public meeting last Thursday that he has had to install $20,000 water treatment systems twice since he set up shop along Route 2 a few years ago. Other businesses affected by the quality of water in the area include a dental practice and a pizzeria and sandwich maker, according to town officials.
If the plan to expand public water and sewer sounds familiar to residents, that is because it was considered in 2007, Town Manager Roger Raymond said during the meeting. Local officials, however, opted not to pursue the work at the time because of the cost to local taxpayers, he said, adding that much has changed since then.
“The original cost seven years ago, or in 2007, was about $6.3 million,” Raymond said. He said, however, that the town was able to reduce the project budget by scaling back the length of the extension by 800 or 900 hundred feet, which allowed for the elimination of a pump station, by changing the design from the original pressurized system to a traditional one.
Another key change from the original plan is how it would be funded, Raymond said. The 2007 proposal called for paying for the utility work with a general obligation bond that would be repaid with local tax dollars.
“I suggested to the council that we change that philosophy, that we look at seeking federal and state grants to help us finance the project,” he said.
To that end, if residents are interested in pursuing the expansion, town officials will apply for a combination of USDA Rural Development and Community Development Block Grant grants to cover the project’s cost, Raymond told the more than 20 residents and businesspeople who attended the meeting. He said that low- to moderate-income households would be eligible for assistance with hookup costs.
Hermon initially wasn’t eligible for the grant money, Raymond said. He said, however, that he was able to convince the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development and USDA’s Rural Development to allow the town to conduct an income survey in the project’s target area. The survey determined that more than 69 percent of the households in the target area met the income guidelines, which qualified the town for the assistance.
“Now I’m not telling you here today that I guarantee you’re going to get these dollars but I can tell you that over my career, I’ve done tons of these projects and I have been able to get [grant] money for all of them,” he said.
Raymond said the next step town officials will take with regard to the water and sewer project will be to send letters to all of the property owners in the target area asking them to say whether they want the project or not.
“I’m going to do everything I can to get everybody’s opinion. The problem is when you do a utility project like that you’re never going to find everybody in support. Never. But I want to make sure that we at least get to hear what the concerns are, so that if it’s something we can address, we will be able to try to address it,” he said.
“If it’s something we can’t address, I’m going to go to the [Town] Council and if they determine that those concerns are legitimate and that’s what the majority of the people want, my recommendation will be to not move forward,” he said.
An informal poll showed that residents who attended were more supportive of extending the water system than the sewer system.