Stephen Malloy, who owns a rental property in Vassalboro, is among the property owners whose sewer bills have skyrocketed after the recent sanitary system upgrade. At a community meeting earlier this year, above, Malloy showed he paid more than $1,100 in the previous quarter after using roughly 5,100 cubic feet of water (approximately 38,000 gallons) in addition to a $240 “line fee” charged to all Vassalboro Sanitary District customers. Meanwhile, Malloy says he paid about $160 to use about 4,300 cubic feet of water between his two properties in nearby Waterville. Dylan Tusinski/Morning Sentinel file photo

VASSALBORO — The number of Vassalboro Sanitary District customers who are past due on their sewer bills is growing, and officials say another rate increase is expected within the next year. Many residents are concerned they won’t be able to afford it.

The Vassalboro Sanitary District is a quasi-municipal company that provides sewage services to about 200 of Vassalboro’s roughly 4,000 residents. Nearly 70 of those customers have past due bills and 30 have outstanding liens against their property, sanitary district officials said at a meeting Thursday evening.

If a resident’s quarterly invoice is more than three months overdue, a lien is placed on the resident’s property. If a lien remains unpaid for 18 months, the district can foreclose on the property.

Initially founded in 1970 as a department of Vassalboro’s town government, the sanitary district became an independently operated private business in 2017.

The sanitary district informed residents last November that it planned to raise sewer rates by 60% this year followed by 5% increases annually for the next five years to pay back about $3 million in loans taken out to finance an $8 million sewer replacement project. Interest on overdue balances also doubled from 4% last year to 8% this year.

Though sanitary district board members put a temporary hold on the increase earlier this year after an uproar from residents, rates are expected to increase within the next year, according to board member and sanitary district treasurer Rebecca Goodrich.


“Yes, we’re going to have a price increase. How much, I have no idea,” Goodrich said at Thursday’s meeting. “It may not be 60%, but we may not have a choice.”

The sewer replacement project was mandated in 2015 and finished in 2020. Since the project’s completion, Vassalboro has sent all of its sewage into Winslow’s system, which in turn pumps it to Waterville for treatment.

Debt repayment on the sewer project and an increase in the cost to pump sewage into the Winslow’s system are driving the price increases, officials said.

“In Winslow, with the Chaffee Brook project they have, they’re going to be adding $1 million to the project budget mainly due to labor shortages, which means they could be having another price increase too,” Goodrich said.

The district has been actively searching for grants to help ease consumer costs. It has also been engaged in discussions with the town to see if tax increment financing — or TIF — funds could be allocated toward debt repayment, according to sanitary district official Richard Green.

TIF is a method towns use to earmark property tax revenue from a designated area for public projects and improvements in that area.


Initial discussions with town administrators indicate that TIF funds could only be used for up to 40% of the total amount of debt, Green said, leaving sanitary district customers on the hook for about $1.8 million.

“It’s an encouraging thing it can be used for debt service,” Green said. “If we can get it funded under a grant, that would be great, but the alternative is to fund it under TIF. It sounds like the town isn’t very motivated to make money available to the district.”

“Where would you go for grants for a project that’s already been built?” he added.

Board members also discussed replacing its pumps and manhole covers at Thursday’s meeting. Green said the updates are decades overdue and would reduce costs for customers in the long run. The district’s pumps have been in use for about 30 years, he said, nearly a decade past their expected life span.

Though work is not yet complete, the purchase and installation of new manhole covers is expected to cost$20,000-$30,000. The exact cost of the new pumps is unclear, though Green said it was “a pretty significant cost.”

“This equipment is going to wear out eventually, and you’re gonna have to replace it,” Green said. “The cost shouldn’t be anything like the one that we had to put the new pipeline in.”


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

The vacancy was slated to be filled by Lisa Miller at Thursday’s meeting, but Miller was unable to attend due to a back injury. The seat will remain vacant until the board’s meeting next month.

Trahan, who has been on the board since 2006, is the only member who is not a Vassalboro resident. He also serves on the Winslow Town Council and oversaw the agreement between Vassalboro, Winslow and Waterville’s Kennebec Sanitary Treatment District.

The sanitary district’s next board meeting is schedule for May 16, though Goodrich said Thursday it has not been determined whether it will be public.

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