HAMPDEN, Maine — Faced with a worsening sewer budget deficit, town councilors last week approved a substantial increase to user fees that aims to start closing the gap, while covering operating costs and setting aside funds for maintenance and improvements.
The council’s decision to raise sewer rates followed months of discussion about the need to address a problem with the current rate structure, according to Town Manager Angus Jennings, who is in the process of developing his first budget since he was hired last summer.
For the past several years, the town has been using interfund transfers from its general fund to offset a portion of its sewer costs, Jennings said.
The gap has been exacerbated by late billing from the city of Bangor, which treats Hampden’s sewage, he said.
Jennings projected that by the end of this fiscal year, the sewer fund will be roughly $780,000 in the hole.
The rate hike, which takes effect on April 1, will first appear in the second-quarter bills that will be mailed in July or August.
Councilors set the new usage charge at $9.74 per 100 cubic feet, which would generate $943,845 in revenues, according to Jennings’ calculations.
Sewer usage fees are based on the customer’s water usage, which is provided to the town by the Hampden Water District and for a small number of customers by the Bangor Water District, in advance of the quarterly billing cycle. Usage is measured in cubic feet.
To that end, relatively light sewer users will see the least impact. A customer now paying around $200 a year will see their bills go up to about $292, an increase of 45 percent.
For the average user now paying about $282 per year, the cost will go up to about $477, for an increase of 69 percent.
Heavier users will experience the biggest hike, at 85 percent. A customer now paying about $385 a year will be billed about $711 a year.
The councilors also set the flat rate for town water with no meter at $108.64, up 69 percent from the current cost, and the sewer service minimum charge and “ready to serve” charge rates at $30.64, also up 69 percent.
The new rate is based, in part, on a $940,000 draft budget for next fiscal year that includes a $100,000 repayment to the general fund.
While Jennings estimated that it could take eight years to fully repay the general fund at that rate, several councilors considered it a step in the right direction.
While no one was pleased about the cost increases, Jennings noted during the meeting that Hampden’s rates were still below those of Bangor, Bar Harbor, Bath and Berwick, among others.
The councilors’ actions regarding sewer rates followed a public hearing during which four residents spoke, most of whom expressed concern about the impact the higher costs would have on those least able to afford them.