KINGFIELD — With steadily increasing costs to repair the nearly four-decades-old wastewater treatment system, selectmen are faced with making a plan to replace and pay for failing leach beds.

On Monday night, Administrative Assistant Leanna Targett told selectmen that wastewater system users haven’t been paying rates that would cover the cost of eventual replacement. In 1985, the quarterly base rate was $31.93; in 2014 it was $61.75; and in 2015, it was $73.75. It hasn’t changed since.

According to Targett, the system supports about 189 customers, or about 20 percent of the town, and tracking each customer’s use and billing has been a challenge.

Everyone pays the minimum quarterly rate, no matter how much wastewater they generate, she said.

“We have failing infrastructure, no matter how you look at this,” she said. “We need to start increasing sewer rates.”

State laws define what the town can bill each user unit, and property use has changed over the years, she said. Some residences have been converted to rental properties. Grocery stores, restaurants and other nonresidential users fall into a different classification.

According to Targett’s husband, wastewater system Superintendent Travis Targett, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection closely supervises the town’s system.

He and Selectman Ray Meldrum made plans to update and correct the current list of ratepayers for the board.

Travis Targett pointed out the perils of postponing replacement, even if problems aren’t visible to the public.

“The DEP won’t be happy with failing leach beds,” he said. “We’ll have to deal with tree roots growing through the older systems, and we’ll also have to dispose of all the contaminated dirt and gravel we dig up.”

Replacing the 76 leach beds and related infrastructure will cost an estimated $50,000 to $75,000 each, he said. That’s a low estimate, since contractors won’t know what to expect until they start the excavation process, he said.

Targett said he knows at least one field on a two-field system has failed completely. That’s the most immediate replacement need, he said. He emphasized the one field replacement could take a year, because he has to submit a professionally engineered design and receive a permit for construction.

Each of the 76 fields will require the same lengthy planning process, and each will have a different replacement cost, based on what contractors find when they excavate each site.

Selectmen have consulted with engineers to develop an overview of the scope of the project.

The town’s Tax Increment Financing money from Poland Spring Water Co. is specifically targeted toward such public infrastructure improvements, according to Selectman Wade Browne.

The town sets aside $20,000 from the TIF each year for wastewater system repairs and maintenance.

The board agreed they need to raise rates, but money from ratepayers can’t be the sole source of revenue for the work. Selectmen will continue exploring financing options.

In other matters, selectmen were asked to reconsider their recent decision not to install a streetlight on private property. Julie Swain, a resident of the Poplar Knoll development on the privately-owned Ira Mountain, said a streetlight at the turn from Route 27 onto the privately owned Iron Bridge Road would be an investment in safety. The right-hand turn is in a 55 mph zone and drivers often exceed the speed limit, making it hazardous for drivers slowing down to turn, she said.

“I don’t see why we can’t get a couple of lights for safety,” Swain said.

In December, selectmen determined that Ira Mountain residents should foot the cost for lighting the bridge, but Swain, the treasurer of the Poplar Knoll  homeowners’ associations, said safety was her primary concern. She noted also that property owners contribute significantly to the town’s tax base.

Although the annual utility cost to the town would be about $200, Meldrum said approving the installation would set a precedent. Other private property owners and associations pay for their lights, he noted.

Ira Mountain has seven homeowner associations, but they don’t work together and share maintenance responsibilities. Adrian Brochu, original owner and developer of the Ira Mountain properties, died unexpectedly in 2019, and he always took care of the original lighting and most of the road maintenance.

Selectmen agreed that family members, including Brochu’s son Chris, and the seven homeowners’ associations must communicate and make decisions about these issues.

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