YARMOUTH, Maine — After months of discussion, the Town Council may finally vote on sewer fees at its Dec. 19 meeting.
The council discussed the potential fees and heard public comments at its Dec. 6 workshop. While Chairman Steve Woods reserved the right to push back the vote, the fees will appear on the Dec. 19 agenda and a decision seems likely.
Town Engineer Steve Johnson reviewed the potential terms of the fees: a tiered system that would divide users into four groups and charge them twice annually.
Seventy percent of users, Johnson estimated, would fall into a standard category, for those sending between 2,801 and 9,300 cubic feet of water and waste into the sewer annually, and pay $340 a year. Those using less would pay $170 a year; fees for high and industrial-use tiers would be $680 and $1,360, respectively.
Johnson laid out several other possible charging methods, including a hybrid rate that uses the tiered system, but charges those in the industrial tier a variable rate based on precise usage.
Such a system could be a major hindrance to the town’s businesses, Woods and Town Manager Nat Tupper said.
It remains unclear what impact the fee would have on property taxes, which are currently used to fund the sewer systems. Woods said the fee should have “a net effect of lowering or reducing the escalation of the tax rate,” but that residents should not expect to simply see the amount of the fee subtracted from their taxes.
The goal of the program, after all, would be to raise revenue.
The town’s sewer system is underfunded by about $282,000 a year, Johnson said.
The program’s target implementation date would be Oct. 1, 2014, in part to allow time to educate the public about the change.
Residents whose homes use septic tanks and aren’t connected to the sewer would not have to pay the fee. As it stands, the town would continue to pump out septic tanks for free on a tri-annual basis.
Eleven residents spoke during a public comment period, and they weren’t enthusiastic about the fee proposal.
“We need a master plan,” Bruce Soule said. “We can’t just respond in a knee-jerk manner to the rising costs of doing business.”
Brian Bicknell objected to the idea that residents who don’t use the sewer wouldn’t pay the fee; he never sent a child to Yarmouth schools, but he pays to fund them and he understands why he should, he argued.
“(The fee arrangement) will be divisive and increase taxes,” he said.
The council still has several details to finalize before it votes, including the rate structure, how residents living in condos would be charged, and how exactly revenue from the fee would be allocated.
It’s hard to imagine the council would reject the fee after discussing it for several months, but its passage may not be assured. Councilor David Craig said he opposes the fee, and Councilors Pat Thompson and Randall Bates expressed serious misgivings.
The council last month voted 4-3 in favor of an annual $25 trash disposal fee, sparking a conversation about the town’s economic health and the impact of the depreciation of Wyman Station.
“This council is looking at any and all prudent ways” to balance the town’s budget, Woods said last week.
New leash law?
In other business, the council agreed to discuss an amendment to the town’s dog control ordinance at its January workshop.
The amendment would require that dog owners keep their pets on a leash within 100 yards of trail heads and park entrances, and that owners carry a leash with them at all times when they bring their dogs to a town park or trail.
The idea is to afford dogs and their owners freedom, while protecting people and respecting those who may be uncomfortable around dogs, said Karyn Garofoli, director of Yarmouth Community Services.
Three members of the public responded that the proposed amendment doesn’t go far enough to control dogs and encourage safety.
Soule said the town should instead consider creating a remote public site where owners can let their dogs roam without leashes.
He said “deer and turkey and grouse and ground foul have all but disappeared” from the woods near his home because of loud, unleashed dogs. Soule said he often hears dogs fighting and “constant screaming and yelling” from owners struggling to wrangle their pets.