A group of residents gather in January outside a Vassalboro Sanitary District board meeting to protest recent increases to their sewage bills. Dylan Tusinski/Morning Sentinel file

VASSALBORO — The private company that provides sewage services to about 200 households approved a series of rate increases at a meeting Thursday amid concerns that residents are increasingly unable to afford their sewer bills.

The Vassalboro Sanitary District is a quasi-municipal company initially founded in 1970 as a department of Vassalboro’s town government, although the sanitary district became an independently operated private business in 2017.

District officials informed residents last November of plans to raise sewer rates by 60%, though the increase was put on hold after vocal opposition from many residents.

The cost of water will now rise about 20% to 17 cents per cubic foot, while the quarterly line charge will increase from $150 to $195. Both the building drainage and “Ready to Serve” fees will double to $50 and $100, respectively. The increases take effect on July 1.

Residents have previously raised concerns about the rapid increase in Vassalboro’s sewer costs, with some saying they paid more in sewer bills than tax bills.

Roughly a third of the district’s customers were behind on their bills last month. The number of outstanding liens on customers’ property rose from 30 in April to nearly 50 in May, according to district board member and treasurer Rebecca Goodrich.


“I cringe sending out those quarterly bills,” Goodrich said. “But we have no choice.”

The rate increase was approved Thursday as the district continues paying back about $3 million in loans taken out to finance an $8 million sewer replacement project mandated in 2015 and finished in 2020, sanitary district official Richard Green said.

“The district isn’t interested in charging people for no reason,” Green said. “There’s a cost for operating the system that users have to pay for.”

Because the Vassalboro Sanitary District is a private entity, there aren’t any laws restricting how much it can raise its rates. While customers of municipal-run water systems can file price gouging complaints through Maine’s Public Utilities Commission, there is no governing body to prevent the rate increase other than the Sanitary District’s board of trustees.

Since the sewer project’s completion, Vassalboro has sent all of its sewage to Winslow, which in turn sends it to Waterville for treatment.

Winslow raised the cost this year for Vassalboro to pump sewage into its system, which Vassalboro officials have previously said is a major driver of rising sewer rates.


Although the district was previously searching for grants to help ease consumer costs, there has been no progress since last month’s meeting, Goodrich said Thursday.

“I probably dropped the ball on that one,” she said.

District officials are seeking tax increment financing — or TIF — funds from the town of Vassalboro to be allocated toward debt repayment, though discussions are still ongoing, according to Green.

Sanitary district customers will likely face more steep increases in future years if the district cannot secure TIF funding, Green said, though it remains unclear exactly how high rates may rise.

District officials also discussed redrafting the organization’s charter at Thursday’s meeting amid concerns that the district cannot legally elect new board members.

The sanitary district’s charter remained largely unchanged after it was separated from the town’s government in 2017, meaning it does not accommodate the district’s quasi-municipal status, Goodrich said.


The board has had a vacant seat for several years that resident Lisa Miller planned to fill at the district’s meeting last month, but the appointment was delayed after municipal lawyers raised questions about its legality.

“Because the charter is all messed up we cannot swear in new board members,” Goodrich said. “The charter what we have right now is municipal, not for our district.”

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.

Trahan was not present for Thursday’s meeting as he continues recovering from a coma he suffered last month.

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