FORT KENT — Dinah Gagnon has seen her sewer bill triple since a new rate structure was put in place earlier this year. She wonders how she will keep her coin-operated laundry, located across the street from the University of Maine at Fort Kent, operating with the increased rates.
Gagnon said Monday night that her sewer rates tripled in May and June over what she was paying in January and February.
She got a sympathetic ear Monday night from the Town Council, but little else. The laundry operator was told the councilors would keep her informed of developments, but earlier this year, they decided to wait one year before tweaking sewer user rates.
Gagnon has seen her rates go from $102 a month to more than $200. The latest bill was $658 for May and June. She said the most recent bill is higher than her mortgage payment on two apartments she owns.
“I can’t afford this,” Gagnon told the councilors. “I already increased my rates after the first increase before May and lost customers.
“More will stop coming,” she said. “People are going elsewhere, and for some, it’s out of town.”
Gagnon operates the only laundry in town, catering to college students, people who don’t have their own washing machines, and tourists from camps and camping areas nearby.
The laundry, which has 14 washers, and two apartments are on a private well. Gagnon installed a water meter on the well, hoping it would lower her sewer rates. The town uses the water meter readings to calculate the sewer user rate for the laundry and apartments.
Gagnon also operates a lunch counter at the facility, but that is on a separate meter because the lunch counter uses municipal water. That supply is metered and billed separately.
According to Town Manager Donald Guimond, the town also is working with another business, Daigle Oil Co., which has seen rates skyrocket since water use has been used to calculate sewer user bills. The business operates two car washing facilities in town.
Sewer user rates haven’t increased, but use meters have come into use in the past six months.
Until this year, the Fort Kent Utility District was a quasi-municipal organization with its own directors. The district included the services for both municipal water and sewer utilities. In January, the district was dissolved, and the two utilities became a department of the town. Its operations are overseen by the Town Council and Guimond. The water utility has 750 customers, and the sewer has 1,150 users.
Before last summer, about half of the water department’s users had use meters on their municipal water lines. Since then, the department has metered water lines of all its users. The readings from the water use meters is used to calculate the user’s water bill and sewer bill.
Before the use of meters, flat rates were used for water users, and a fixture-based rate was in use for sewer rates.
For those people who use the sewer utility but are not on town water, there is a flat rate — an average rate for an average house. Users get billed every two months. The new billing system started in January, about the same time the utility became a municipal department.
This year’s budget for the water utility is $282,000, about the same as last year. The sewer budget is $461,000, almost $100,000 less than last year’s budget. Guimond said the district had several one-time costs in the budget last year.
At this time, the Town Council has little it can do. Councilors decided earlier this year to use metered water use for sewer use billing and to wait one year before trying to adjust the billing system.
“What do I do in the meantime?” Gagnon asked. “I just can’t afford this.”
Councilor Paul Boucher raised the issue of developing a rate for high-consumption users. He said it could be a sliding scale. The present rate is 4.5 cents per 100 cubic feet of water.
In the end, head of the Town Council Laurel Daigle said, “It’s a matter of not being able to treat you any different than any other customer.”