NORRIDGEWOCK — At a special Town Meeting Monday night, voters approved accepting $5 million in federal funding to upgrade the town’s aging wastewater treatment facility.

In a meeting that lasted more than an hour at Mill Stream Elementary School with more than 60 residents in attendance, voters approved accepting the funding as well as changing the sewer use charge ordinance.

In April it was announced the town would receive $5 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program, which will be focused primarily on upgrading the infrastructure of the facility on Willow Street. The funding consists of a $2.8 million loan and a $2.2 million grant.

The selectmen already accepted the funding conditionally, but the town meeting was a requirement. The improvements will affect 314 households, 24 businesses and 6 public facilities in town.

The wastewater treatment center is about 25 years old, and the upgrades will extend its lifespan another 25 years. A wastewater treatment facility converts water that is not suitable for use into water that can be reused.

Norridgewock likely will begin construction on the upgrade to the wastewater treatment center in spring of 2018. Town Manager Richard LaBelle had previously said the hope is to have it completed by December 2019.

Voters also approved a change to the ordinance governing charges for sewer use. The Board of Selectmen has told the town’s sewer commissioners that they would like to see users’ annual sewer rates increased over the next few years to build a reserve and to prepare for debt payments.

LaBelle had previously said the current rates are $35 per quarter and 5.5 cents per cubic foot, and a flat rate of $100 if a person is connected to the sewer system but not town water. He said the average household sewer rate is $112 a year.

LaBelle said the ordinance governs the amount of debt service that the general tax base of the town would pay. He said the selectmen voted to raise the cap on tax-based financing “up to $120,000.” That’s up from the current ordinance cap of $87,719.

Once the town assumes the new debt for the upgraded facility, LaBelle said, the estimated payment will be $131,572. LaBelle said the selectmen decided to increase the amount contributed toward the annual debt service from the general tax base. The increased sewer rates would help build a reserve, be used for general maintenance and fund the remaining amounts of the debt service. The new debt will be assumed once the upgraded facility is up and running.

The Norridgewock Wastewater Treatment Facility has been a source of contention in the past. In January 2016, the Norridgewock Sewer Department was found to be in violation of state Department of Environmental Protection regulations.

Around the time the violation was cited, the sewer commissioners voted to raise sewer rates by 10 percent to address the department’s debt to the town, as well as to request bids from engineering firms. The DEP violation was incurred after biochemical oxygen demand numbers, which measure water clarity, were determined not to be up to standards. The problem was corrected later.

The sewer rate was increased 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. In addition, flat rates, which are for sewer users who are not connected to town water, increased from $74.60 to $100. The last sewer rate increase occurred in 2012; the previous one, in 1994.

The wastewater plant and the Sewer Department have a rocky recent history in Norridgewock. Before the DEP violation, former Town Manager Michelle Flewelling had advised the selectmen that the aging pump station had the potential to be in violation of state law, and she advised them they might require legal counsel.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

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