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Rockland eyes shifting sewer costs to stormwater runoff

By Stephen Betts | Jun 01, 2021
Photo by: Stephen Betts

Rockland — Rockland city officials are considering changing the way it levies fees for operating the wastewater treatment system to put a greater focus on properties that create stormwater runoff.

The City Council discussed the issue at length in its May 24 meeting. No decision was made, but city officials expect to resume the conversation once engineering consultants Wright Pierce submits a stormwater master plan this summer.

Terry Pinto, director of the Rockland Pollution Control department, pointed out that sewer bills are based on the amount of water a customer uses.

But the wastewater plant must also treat stormwater that runs through sewer lines.

"There's no correlation between how much water a person uses and the amount of stormwater," he said.

One way to address this issue is the creation of a stormwater utility separate from the treatment plant. Pinto said this would not require additional staff, but would be managed by the public services division.

The creation of a utility would allow the city to bill property owners for the amount of stormwater that comes off their property and to shift costs away from sewer users. Communities such as Portland created such utilities and base the formula on the amount of paved parking areas.

Councilor Sarah Austin said such a change would encourage people to reduce impervious surfaces, and there would be financial incentives for people to reduce those surfaces.

The stormwater utility would also more fairly apportion costs, she said.

Properties that include large parking lots, such as shopping centers, would pay more.

The revenue generated would go toward replacing failing stormwater/sewer lines. The city has been separating sewer and stormwater lines in an effort to reduce the amount of stormwater runoff that must be treated.

The proposed 2021-2022 wastewater budget is $4,656,096, an increase of 14%. The increase is due largely to stricter environmental regulations.

Also at the May 24 meeting, councilors hear Pinto talk about the increases. He said the cost of chemicals to treat wastewater is going from $250,000 in the current budget year to $726,000 for the budget year that begins July 1.

The city and other wastewater treatment plants was disposing sludge to companies that would spread it on fields as fertilizers. That is no longer allowed, because of PFA contamination, also known as forever chemicals. The cost of disposing of sludge has increased from $71 a ton to $103 per ton.

The average homeowner would expect to pay $28 more per year, Pinto estimated.

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Comments (8)
Posted by: Fred Witherby | Jun 01, 2021 15:15

Apologies! I misread $28 for 28%. But I do agree with both types of comments above, it’s environmentally better and it’s another cost of living increase. So what about bulk purchases of chemicals with other water authorities in Midcoast to lower the cost? What about making dual metering easier (very cumbersome to have sewer-exempt water system used only for gardens, plants, trees)? In conclusion, I am confused as usual between the ongoing operating expense of the treatment plant, and the capital 50-year expense of “replacing failing storm water/sewer lines”. It’s lucky we have the Council to sort all this out. And that was a good photo, I never knew what that outlet was before. Keep well. /fw

Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Jun 01, 2021 10:45

Nothing has shown up that I know of to slow down the increase  cost in living here. When somebody figures out how to close loopholes placed to defeat the purpose of any new laws and fees things might change.

Posted by: Crawford L Robinson | Jun 01, 2021 10:41

Welcome to Rockland ... until they throw you out because you can no longer pay your property tax, overpriced city services and mandated costs. Not to worry though. There is a long line of flatlanders with deep pockets waiting to pounce on your foreclosed house for the opportunity to walk the famous Harbor Trail through scenic Pinto Park on their way to an art gallery.

Posted by: George Terrien | Jun 01, 2021 09:50

EXCELLENT step toward improving our treatment of the environment.  Another, very important step:  charging environmental fees both for initial development review approvals and annually for such new development thereafter for construction that results in increased runoff.   Such fees should be levied even for infill single-family houses and additions that are newly constructed on water-retentive soils, even with gravel driveways increase runoff, unless detention/retention measures are incorporated to divert storm water from public sewers, combined or separated.  Such attribution of cost would help to protect existing property tax payers from rate increases resulting from new development.

Posted by: Gerald A Weinand | Jun 01, 2021 08:51

Mr. Witherby:

It's $28 more not 28%, and this is the expected increase based on the proposed budget increase - has nothing to do with the stormwater runoff initiative.

Posted by: Stephen Betts | Jun 01, 2021 08:45

Fred, Homeowners would not pay 28 percent more. They would pay $28 more per year in sewer fees because of increased chemical costs and because of higher disposal fees for sludge.

Posted by: Fred Witherby | Jun 01, 2021 07:56

“properties with large parking lots would pay more.” …  “homeowners would pay 28% more.”  I’m not seeing any savings or equality here, just an excuse to rearrange the billing so as to pay more. :-( as usual, why is this even newsworthy?

Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Jun 01, 2021 06:55

Please, no more damn fees. Ambulance, sewer, dump. They all add to our tax bill; no matter what you call them.

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