GARDINER — City Councilors on Wednesday unanimously approved switching to a new sewer billing formula that more closely aligns with the customer’s usage.

The new method will replace the current one July 1 for some users and Aug. 1 for others.

City Manager Scott Morelli said the city will begin billing on the same cycle as the water district, which means customers will receive bills for their most recent use.

“Currently, we bill about three months in arrears,” Morelli said. “As part of catching up our billing process, the council also authorized abating an entire quarter’s worth of bills for our Gardiner sewer users.”

Instead of sending out a fifth quarter bill to all users to get them caught up, the city will forgive the charges for the final quarter of the current billing cycle, he said. He said the revenue will eventually catch up, and the city won’t lose money because of the change.

The city will abate all sewer charges for the months of April, May and June for some people and May, June, and July for others. That way the billing is based on current data instead of in arrears, he said.

Morelli said the difference in the abatement dates is based on the water district’s meter reads. The water district reads the first set one month and the next set the next. So one set of accounts is always one month behind the other.

Morelli said the first set of customers will be mailed a bill for July, August and September on Oct. 1 and the second set will be billed Nov. 1 for August, September, and October.

Chuck Applebee, wastewater and public works director, told councilors on Wednesday the total abatement amounts to $260,000.

Councilor Thom Harnett said he was concerned about a possible loss of revenue.

But Morelli said once the city gets four quarters worth of bills and the last quarter of bills are abated, there will not be a deficit.

“We will have the same amount of revenue as budgeted,” Morelli said. “Had we sent each user a fifth-quarter catch-up bill, we would have had an additional $260,000 in revenue.”

Morelli said the $260,000 would have been added to the city’s sewer account fund balance, which already has a surplus. By not collecting the revenue through a fifth-quarter catch-up bill, he said the city will have less of a cushion to mitigate the possible need for rate increases.

Because some users bills’ will increase significantly, the council also approved a zero interest rate for the fiscal year 2013 billing cycle.

Morelli said that means late payments for the 2013 billing period will not be penalized with interest.

For example, if someone’s bill increases from $150 to $200 per quarter, but they still are only able to pay $150, Morelli said that user will not be charged interest on the outstanding $50 until July 1, 2013. If residents pay off their balance before July 1, 2013, they will have no late payment interest.

“By doing this, we allow those who will see a decrease in their bills to see that decrease immediately,” Morelli said. “And we also provide some assistance to those who are seeing an increasing by giving them extra time to pay the full amount without penalty.”

Morelli said the new rate will not increase revenue for the wastewater budget. He said some bills will go up and some will go down. Some will remain the same.

“We haven’t changed the pie, we’ve just changed how we split up the pie,” he said.

Councilors plan to set the sewer rates based on Applebee’s calculations at their meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 22.

Applebee has proposed users pay a base rate of $87 per quarter, which would cover up to 1,200 cubic feet of wastewater discharged into the sewer system. Heavier users would then be billed an additional $10 for each 100 cubic feet of wastewater above the 1,200 cubic foot minimum.

Morelli said his staff will send a letter to customers explaining the rate change.

Mechele Cooper — 621-5663

[email protected]

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