VASSALBORO — A number of options are being considered to lower residents’ sewer bills after the private company that owns the system said it plans to more than double sewer rates next year, Select Board members said at a meeting Thursday.

Residents were initially told by the Vassalboro Sanitary District last month that sewer rates, the cost of water, and line charges were all to be raised by 60% in January, followed by annual 5% increases for the following five years to cover “operating expenses, maintenance expenses, and debt repayment.”

Thursday’s meeting was attended by state Rep. Richard Bradstreet, R-Vassalboro, representatives of the sanitary district, and about 75 residents, many of whom said their sewer bills have risen sharply over the last 15 years. Some residents said that’s heightened the town’s already-high cost of living and placing stress on low- and fixed-income residents.

Selectman Chris French said the meeting was intended to provide both the board and the public with information, and that no action would be taken on sewer bills or the Sanitary District.

“As far as tonight’s concerned, this board just wants some information from the sewer district,” French said. “This isn’t a public hearing. We’re here to get information from the sewer district that will help us to help you.”

Initially founded in 1970 as a department of Vassalboro’s town government, the sanitary district was formed into an independently-operated private business by town officials in 2017. About 200 customers are currently connected to Vassalboro’s sewage system.


The Vassalboro Sanitary District is governed by an unelected five-person board of trustees, though one seat is currently vacant. The current members are Ray Breton, Rebecca Goodrich, Alfred Roy and Lee Trahan.

Trahan is the only board member who does not live in Vassalboro. He also serves on the Winslow Town Council and oversaw the agreement between Vassalboro, Winslow and Waterville’s Kennebec Sanitary Treatment District.

While customers of municipal water systems can file price gouging complaints through Maine’s Public Utilities Commission, Vassalboro Town Manager Aaron Miller said that because the sanitary district is no longer a public utility, there is no governing body that can prevent the increase other than its board of trustees.

Chuck Applebee, the sanitary district’s superintendent, said at the meeting that the increased rates are largely the result of $3 million in loans taken out to finance an $8 million sewer replacement project. The project was mandated in 2015 and finished in 2020 after the Maine Department of Environmental Protection said the town’s existing sewer system did not follow phosphorous safety guidelines.

“The lowest cost option was to pump all the influent to Winslow and have it treated at (Waterville’s Kennebec Sanitary District),” he said. “The trustees did pick the least expensive option, even though it is very expensive.”

Vassalboro had operated three relatively small treatment facilities, but since the project’s completion, Vassalboro has sent its sewage into Winslow’s system, which in turn pumps it to the Kennebec Sanitary District Treatment facility in Waterville for treatment.


Vassalboro residents have incurred costs from the sanitary district’s resulting agreements with the town of Winslow and the Kennebec Sanitary District, Applebee said.

“Winslow really controls the cost that Vassalboro is going to pay,” he said. “We could have said we didn’t want to go there, take option number two, but that would have been even more money. … This year, the district got notice from the town of Winslow that their rates were going up 25%, so we had to deal with that.”

Many of the residents who spoke during public comment said their sewer bills have risen exponentially each year, and that added fees and taxes have only worsened the problem.

Vassalboro resident Tara Karczewski-Mitchell said at the meeting that she and some of her neighbors had received bills in the thousands of dollars.

“In January, I believe my bill will have increased almost 500% a quarter,” she said. “At what point is it just unsustainable to expect 200 of us to do payback of a $3 million project?”

Applebee acknowledged that the town previously had secured grant money to help offset some of the cost from the sanitary district, but that money was no longer available to the town. Some residents were ruffled over the fact that although the district said it was raising connection costs from $150 this year to $240 next year, discrepancies due to lost grant money lead to many residents receiving bills that were thousands of dollars higher than initially expected.

“People are talking about a $140- to $240-increase to connect,” Karczewski-Mitchell said. “Meanwhile, at the last meeting that we had with my neighbors, people are paying (anywhere from) $6,000-$12,000 to connect. I don’t know if folks realize that’s how much they’re paying.”

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