Wednesday, May 22, 2013
WATERVILLE -- City officials want a court to decide whether the city should be paying stormwater fees to the Waterville Sewerage District.
City councilors voted 7-0 Tuesday to withhold payment and send the matter to court.
City Manager Michael Roy said Wednesday that the city has paid the fees for more than 30 years. Last year, it paid $271,000 in fees.
"I think because it was paid for so long, the city never questioned it until just last year," he said. "I started to look at it more closely and asked for an explanation. We're a user -- a customer -- like everyone else is a customer. Why should one customer be singled out and pay this bill that helps the other users of the system?"
Sewerage District Superintendent Roland LaPointe declined comment. In December, he also declined, saying only that the city's and district's lawyers were discussing the case.
City Solicitor William A. Lee said Wednesday that the sewerage district will file a request in Kennebec County Superior Court asking the court to determine the rights and obligations of both parties.
"They (district) maintain the statute allows them to assess, essentially, a flat fee against the city for treatment of water that infiltrates the sewer district's pipes, and we say, 'No,'" Lee said. "We are just a user just like other thousands of users -- Colby College, hospitals, (homeowners). If you have these charges because water leaks into pipes, it should be passed on proportionately to all users in the district. The city shouldn't be picking up a large percentage of it."
The Sewerage District is a quasi-municipal entity whose members are appointed by the mayor and council. The district has its own charter and was created by the state.
The district does two things: It routes the city's water to the Kennebec Sanitary Treatment District, another quasi-municipal entity that is completely separate from the sewerage district, and it manages stormwater and catch basins.
In addition to the stormwater treatment fee, the city 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. More than half of the sewer flow to the treatment plant is stormwater that includes rainwater and groundwater that gets into the sanitary system through cracks in pipes, basements and roof drains.
Lee said if the city is successful in court, it is possible it could recoup some of the money it has paid in stormwater fees over the years.
"This is certainly something that will be looked at," he said.
If the city wins the case, someone will have to pay the bill, he said.
"It's a question of who's going to pay it. If the city is successful, the district will need to redo its rate structure to increase rates of all users of the sewerage district."
It is not clear how long the court matter will take.
"I think that the sewerage district and the city are both committed to having this resolved judicially in as cost-effective a manner as possible," Lee said.
In other matters Tuesday, councilors recognized John Koons, Parks & Recreation Director Matt Skehan and Friends of Quarry Road for all the work they have done on the Quarry Road Recreation Area.
The council also voted unanimously to support legislation creating a natural gas district; to request that the Legislature approve a biennial state budget that prevents a significant increase in property taxes; and to enter into an agreement with Fairfield to have Police Chief Joseph Massey and Deputy police Chief Charles Rumsey administer that town's police department through June 30.
Councilors voted 6-1 to spend $10,000 to fund a study to explore the viability of and options for natural gas in Waterville. Councilor Fred Stubbert, D-Ward 1, was the lone dissenter.
Amy Calder -- 861-9247