SKOWHEGAN — The Skowhegan Miracle Homeless Shelter this week is again sending its residents to work for the town in lieu of payments on a one-time sewer hook-up fee.

The $4,000 sewer bill increased this year because the number of residents has nearly tripled since it opened in 2008. Shelter officials also did not live up to a provision of the original sewer payment plan that called for “in kind” payments — sending men to work for the town.

A crew of about 8 men began work on Tuesday. Each man will work at a pay rate of $7.50 per hour until the fee is paid.

It will be the Rev. Richard Berry’s second chance at exchanging men and muscle for money. The same plan was tried last summer, but because of work obligations at the shelter, he did not have the manpower to send people to work for the town, Berry said.

“I really didn’t have guys to spare to go over there and the ones that could have were not great workers,” Berry said. “I don’t like to send somebody to do a job if they’re not going to do a good job.”

The Board of Selectmen last week voted unanimously to increase the shelter’s payments from $150 to $250 per month until the fee is paid in full in about two years. The increase came because the number of men at the shelter increased, so the sewer flow capacity increased as well.

Berry said he couldn’t afford $250 a month, so he opted for the in-kind work as a way to pay off the debt.

Selectmen, along with Code Enforcement Officer Randy Gray, who operates the transfer station, and Town Manager John Doucette Jr., said the fee could be paid off in as little as two weeks with shelter residents working for the town.

They said Berry and the Trinity Evangelical Free Church, which runs the shelter, had to be held accountable for the fees, just like anyone else.

“The concern the selectmen had was that there was an agreement effective last October to pay $150 and supply in-kind workers and if the in-kind workers did not work out, that we would renegotiate the agreement,” Doucette said this week. “It did not work out.”

Berry said he attempted to find men to work off the debt last summer, but workers did not stay on the job and only about $2,000 of the original fee was paid off. He said he had to use his best men to work on completing the expansion of the shelter, which opened last month.

Now that the work is done at the shelter, he said he can concentrate on sending his men to work for the town.

“Everybody I’ve sent over there is hand picked — they’ve got good workers, they’re get their $7.50 an hour’s worth out of these guys,” he said. “We don’t have a problem with paying that; we don’t have a problem with doing our fair share with the town. We want to be an active part of the community.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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