Thursday, April 24, 2014
WATERVILLE -- City Manager Michael Roy is recommending the city no longer pay stormwater treatment fees to the Waterville Sewerage District.
The city has been paying the fee for more than 25 years; this year it paid $271,000, but Roy said he cannot find justification for paying it, other than that the city has done it for so many years.
"The city's position is, we do not do anything to influence, control, direct the flow of stormwater into the system," Roy said this week.
Sewerage district superintendent Roland LaPointe wouldn't comment on the matter, saying the city's and district's lawyers are discussing the case.
Roy said users include all property owners in the city: homeowners and nontaxpaying entities such as Thomas and Colby colleges, as well as MaineGeneral and Inland hospitals.
If the city stops paying the stormwater treatment fee, rates would increase for all users, and the city would pay its share like everyone else, he said.
Property taxes could decrease if the city no longer has to pay the fee, he said.
The Sewerage District is a quasi-municipal entity whose members are appointed by the mayor and City Council. The district has its own charter and was created by the state, according to Roy.
The district does two things: routes the city's sewer water to the Kennebec Sanitary Treatment District, another quasi-municipal entity that is completely separate from the sewerage district; and manages stormwater and catch basins.
In addition to the stormwater treatment fee, the city also pays the sewerage district $266,800 annually for maintenance of its stormwater catch basin system.
There are two separate drainage systems: one that carries sewer water to the treatment plant and another that carries stormwater to the river, according to Roy.
He said that more than half of the sewer flow to the treatment plant, 54 percent, is stormwater that includes rainwater and groundwater that gets into the sanitary system through cracks in the pipes, basements and roof drains.
"That's what we're paying, is a portion of the cost of treating that stormwater that's in the flow," he said. "They decided our (fee) is $271,000."
He said the city is being singled out to pay a huge part of the bill, which is in conflict with state law. That law says districts must be uniform in their charges and rates, he said.
"It's not a fair and equitable fee because we're the only customer being charged," he said.
City Council Chairman Fred Stubbert, D-Ward 1, said he dug into the stormwater fee issue when Paul LePage was mayor but momentum fizzled when LePage left to become Maine's governor.
"Last year during the budget session, I brought it up again," Stubbert said. "The more we dug into it, the more we found out there's no basis for that payment, whatsoever."
Stubbert said city officials are looking into the possibility of taking over the district, which used to be part of city government. An act of the state Legislature separated the district from the city in 1948.
"It would take an act of the Legislature to put it back into the city," he said. "This is one of the things we're considering."
Meanwhile, Roy emphasized that the city's relationship with the district is healthy and strong and the city has no interest in engaging in a long fight over the issue.
"We're questioning our bill and they're trying to find an answer," he said. "They're certainly acting very responsibly and promptly to our concerns, so we have no issue in the way things are being handled so far."
Roy said he will update the City Council on the matter at its regular meeting Tuesday.
He said the city started taking a hard look at the issue when the fee increased significantly in 2009.
"The city should have been more diligent," he said. "We should have asked the questions before. We're doing it now. They're doing their best to get an answer."
Amy Calder -- 861-9247