NORRIDGEWOCK — The town sewer commission voted Wednesday to raise sewer rates by 10 percent in an effort to address financial concerns and violations of Department of Environmental Protection rules at the Norridgewock Wastewater Treatment Facility.

The commission also voted to begin the bid process for finding an engineering firm to conduct an analysis of the facility and determine what maintenance needs to be done at the aging sewer plant.

Both items passed unanimously.

“If we want to address another rate increase later in the year, we can; but this will get us on the right track,” said Kristina Gossman, chairwoman of the sewer commission.

The Sewer Department now collects about $38,000 quarterly in user rates and has an annual budget of around $160,000. In addition, the departmental budget has been supplemented with funds from a town-financed bond totaling about $85,000 each year for the last several years. The bond is scheduled to expire in 2020.

On Wednesday the commission, in a special meeting that selectmen also attended, voted to increase sewer rates — a step they said will help balance the sewer budget.

Starting May 1, sewer rates will increase from a $30 basic charge and 5 cents per cubic foot of water, to a $35 basic charge and 5.5 cents per cubic foot. Flat rates, which are for sewer users who are not connected to town water, will increase from $74.60 to $100.

Commissioners on Wednesday also said they hope the increase will show the state Department of Environmental Protection that they are taking steps to address violations related to proper operation and maintenance of the sewer facility.

In a walk-through of the sewer plant on Monday, DEP inspectors found four valves and associated piping that control the flow of wastewater to be in “very poor condition or non-functional,” according to a letter from DEP compliance inspector Beth DeHaas to sewer operator Heinz Gossman. Throughout the plant there are also other locations where the piping and controls are “heavily corroded and/or non-functional,” the letter said.

DeHaas also raised questions about the funding to repair the problems at the plant, writing that while the commission has received proposals for an engineering plan, “no funding has been secured or contract signed to proceed with this work.”

The department has asked the town to submit a plan and schedule for all work that needs to be done by Feb. 20 and a long-term plan for operation and maintenance by March 31.

Wednesday’s votes to send the contract for the engineering firm out to bid and to adopt a sewer rate increase come after months of questions about the Sewer Department’s finances, including allegations by some commissioners that they were lied to or given inaccurate numbers for the department’s accounts.

The commission began meeting regularly in 2015 after no meetings were held in 2014. Former Town Manager Michelle Flewelling stressed to the commission in August that the department was in bad shape financially and that if an expensive repair were needed, the department probably would not have the money.

At the end of 2015, the department had a reserve account balance of $247,673, according to town bookkeeper Peter Lyman, but it owed the town about $77,000.

The last sewer rate increase in Norridgewock was imposed in 2012, when the basic charge increased from $25 to $30 and the consumption rate from 3.1 cents per cubic feet to 5 cents.

The average sewer bill is about $95 per quarter, according to Lyman. With the new rates approved Wednesday, that figure would increase to about $106 per quarter.

At the time of the 2012 increase, the sewer commissioners at the time — none of whom are on the board today — wrote in a letter to users that “the new rates were developed only to allow for the required revenue needed to cover this year’s expenses” and did not include money for capital reserves.

“Please note that the rates will need to be adjusted steadily over the course of the next four to five years at a minimum,” it said.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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