AUGUSTA — The city of Augusta wants to weigh in on a court case in which neighboring Hallowell and a group of residents say their new sewer rates are too high and incorrectly calculated.

Augusta city attorney Stephen Langsdorf filed a motion in Kennebec County Superior Court to intervene in an appeal filed by the city of Hallowell and Hallowell Citizens for Fair Sewer Rates vs. Greater Augusta Utility District.
That motion has yet to be ruled on by a judge, and a hearing in the case has yet to be scheduled.

The Hallowell groups, represented by attorney William Harwood, say the district’s Oct. 3 increase in sewer rates — 35 percent — is too high and that the district failed to keep proper records to justify the rates. District trustees also raised storm water rates by 40 percent.

The Greater Augusta Utility District provides sewage service to 758 customers in Hallowell.

Hallowell’s lawsuit says the district failed to track sewer treatment costs separately from storm water treatment.

The complaint reads, “Since the district’s creation by the Legislature in 2007, the district has not maintained separate accounts for sewer and storm water charges, or records supporting the method of allocation between sewer and storm water ratepayers.”

Customers in Hallowell buy only sewer services from the district. Augusta customers buy sewer and storm water services.

Hallowell’s complaint asks that the rate increase be stayed or refunded, and that the district be required to keep separate accounts for sewer and storm water service.

It also asks the court to require the district to establish “fair and verifiable” methods for allocating costs of the Bond Brook Combined Sewer Overflow project and other capital improvements.

According to the district, the rate increases were driven by the need to fund debt incurred to comply with the Clean Water Act, and those projects include the $17.3 million Bond Brook project, now under way, to stop waste water from dumping into Bond Brook during storms.

“It’s basically the city’s understanding that (the utility district) was trying to be fair with the allocation of stormwater and sewer costs,” Langsdorf said. “We reserve the right to say more costs should be allocated to sewer.

“The city (of Augusta) is the largest ratepayer (in the Greater Augusta Utility District), and the vast majority of all the ratepayers are located in Augusta,” Langsdorf said. “There’s no one there to represent storm water ratepayers if we’re not there, and the decision could affect storm water rates.”

In the motion before the court, Langsdorf said Harwood does not oppose the motion to intervene.
“We’re in favor of all the voices being heard,” Harwood said Thursday, adding that “Augusta sewer ratepayers will benefit from any success we see, because their rates are identical.”

He said it also was possible that Augusta storm water rates could rise if his appeal is successful.

Betty Adams — 621-5631
[email protected]

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