Gardiner elected officials are set to consider a revised schedule of proposed sewer increases when they meet Wednesday.

In February, Wastewater Director Douglas Clark had proposed a series of increases to city sewer rates — 9 percent in the first year and 3 percent in each of the two following years.

The increase, the first being sought since 2008, has been proposed to pay for expected upgrades to Gardiner’s wastewater treatment plant in the next few years including new generators for the treatment plant on River Road and for the Maine Avenue pump station.

But at that Gardiner City Council meeting, District 1 City Councilor Terry Berry instead proposed four annual increases of 4 percent, with the possibility of revisiting the increases in a couple of years.

The Gardiner City Council meets at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the City Council chamber at 6 Church St.

In Gardiner, the wastewater department is funded by an enterprise fund, which means it supports itself by what it collects in sewer fees.

In his presentation to city elected officials in February, Clark said while the department has a healthy reserve fund and plans to use some of it to defray costs in the upcoming budget year, some anticipated upgrades in the next several years are expected to cost between $2.5 million to $3 million.

“For every $1 million we have to finance, that adds $65,000 to the debt service,” Clark said.

Asking for the increase now would allow the wastewater department to set aside money in anticipation of that spending, Clark said, just as city residents might save money to pay for replacing a roof or a furnace.

“The hard thing to get over is (the size of) the fund balance,” Clark said at the last City Council meeting. “When you have $828,000, it’s easy to kind of think you will take a look at it next year. We’re running in a deficit right now to the tune of $134,000 this year, which means next year it’s double and so on. We have a healthy fund balance. We are well within what the auditors recommend, 12-24 percent. But the time to act is now. There will always be a plant there, you’re always going to have fund it and you’re always going to have to run it.”

In Gardiner, residents are charged a minimum of $87 per quarter, which includes the use of 1,200 cubic feet of flow (8,976 gallons) as measured by Gardiner Water District meters. Residents who use more are charged $10 for each 100 cubic feet of flow they use. Clark said most households with two adults would not exceed the initial 1,200 cubic feet of flow.

Under the original proposal, after the first increase, the minimum quarterly charge would go to $94.83. In the next year, it would go to $97.67, and in the final year, it would go to $100.60. The same percent increases would apply to the usage rate.

Now, every 100 cubic feet of flow over 1,200 is $10. That charge would go to $10.90 in the first year, $11.23 in the second year and $11.56 in the third year.

Under Berry’s proposal, which the City Council approved, the increases would be $90.48 in the first year, $94.10 in the second, $97.86 in the third, $101.77 in the fourth. The increase would also be applied to the usage rate, which would be $10.40 in the first year, $10.82 in the second, $11.24 in the third and $11.70 in the fourth.

Several city residents, including Beverly Robbins, said they were concerned about the impact of the cost of the increase.

Robbins said with the number of people in her house, she sometimes takes her laundry to the laundromat to avoid adding to her sewer bill; her last bill was $300.

“I am speaking on behalf of myself and other people who have to do laundry sometimes two or three times a day,” Robbins said. “The large families are the ones supporting this increase. I feel like they are being penalized. It should be the same for everyone.”

Clark said he would be willing to check her pipes to see whether she has a leak that’s driving up her bill.

Gary Harvey, who has lived in Gardiner for 29 years, wanted to know how much of the proposed increase was because of wage increases.

City Finance Director Denise Brown said the wastewater operating budget had increased only $4,000 in the last budget year, which is less than 1 percent of the budget. Even though wages and salaries went up through negotiated union increases, Clark made cuts to offset those increases.

Because this is a new proposal, a public hearing and vote on the first read is scheduled for Wednesday’s meeting.

City Council members are also expected to:

• hear an update on the Johnson Hall project from Mike Miclon, the artistic executive director at Johnson Hall;

• hold a public hearing and vote on the second read of changes to Gardiner’s Land Use Ordinance on regulations of indoor cultivation facilities;

• provide some guidance on spending city money on the removal of trees, which may be on public or private property;

• provide some guidance on the city’s policy of removing ice and snow from buildings adjacent to sidewalks in the downtown business area;

• approve City Council minutes from Jan. 3 meeting; and

• discuss possible state tax breaks for local businesses under the governor’s plan to identify opportunity zones in low-income areas where investors would receive significant tax breaks by directing their capital gains into businesses or real estate.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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