BERLIN – The Berlin Mayor and Council voted Monday night to explore the costs of an additional 250,000 gallons per day (gpd) of sewer service, hoping to persuade Worcester County to approve a further sewer expansion from 750,000 gpd to a full one million gpd.
Only three town council members, Paula Lynch, Elroy Brittingham and Ellen Lang, sat down on the dais Monday night, the minimum number needed for a quorum. Council members Dean Burrell and Gee Williams and Mayor Tom Cardinale, were absent.
The town needs to know the actual costs of more capacity, Lynch said during council comments.
“It’s been on my mind for some time. Are we going to go back to the county and ask for an additional 250,000 gpd for planning capacity?” Lynch said.
Berlin asked for one million gpd in December, but the Worcester County Commissioners decided to limit the expansion to an additional 150,000 gpd, bringing the total town capacity to 750,000 gpd.
URS consultant Mark Prouty and Lynch both told the Worcester County Commissioners during the water capacity increase hearing in mid-January that the town intends to request more capacity, despite the December decision.
Two unbuilt properties within Berlin’s town limits require more EDUs than the increase granted by the county commissioners provides. The expansion approved by the county adds only 600 EDUs, while the Davis and Taylor farms and Purnell Crossing planning numbers call for 800 EDUs. That number does not include the EDUs necessary to serve infill lots.
“I can’t understand how that’s going to work,” said Lynch. “I just think for planning we need to go back to the county. Before we go back, we need to get our ducks in a row.”
The town put the county on notice last month that more capacity will be needed soon, Lynch said.
Berlin resident Marge Coyman asked when the town put the county on notice. Nothing was said about the request for more capacity at the Berlin public meeting held early this year to go over the wastewater plant costs, she said.
“It was said. URS said it,” said Lynch, at the Jan. 15 county water capacity expansion hearing.
“When did the discussion happen with the council that asked for more than 750,000 gallons?” Coyman asked.
“Tonight. We’re discussing it now,” said Lynch.
The Berlin town council approved the request for a total of one million gpd of sewer last fall, before going to Worcester County for approval.
The council did not discuss the request for additional sewer before the January water expansion hearing before the county, Lang said.
“I think the issue is you’ve been discussing this privately again,” Coyman said.
“I haven’t been in a meeting,” Brittingham said.
“Nor have I,” said Lang.
The matter could have been discussed by phone, Coyman said.
A phone poll did take place, Lang said, after a town council meeting on Jan. 14, because the county hearing on the water expansion was the next day.
“There was no discussion at all,” said Lang. “I was strictly called and asked for a vote, and I voted no.”
Coyman said that was bad government, saying, “It’s a very unusual way to handle business.”
The town council is allowed to hold phone votes on administrative matters, Berlin attorney Dave Gaskill said
Lynch later said that she had not asked for a vote, but had contacted Lang and Williams individually to discuss whether a further expansion of sewer capacity should be requested at the water hearing the next day. The consensus, she said, was that the water hearing would not be the proper venue to make a sewer request.
Lynch’s remarks to the County Commissioners on Jan. 15, saying that Berlin would be back to ask for more sewer service, were made as a private individual during the public hearing and not as a town official, Lynch said.
Berlin has not made a formal request for the additional capacity. The county and state say that 750,000 gpd is fiscally responsible for the ratepayers, said Coyman. “It’s another example of back door antics going on,” she said.
“I don’t think God Almighty could please you,” Lynch said.
“That’s not fair,” Coyman replied.
“That’s my personal feeling,” said Lynch.
In a depressed housing market, the cost of the additional capacity would fall on current ratepayers, Coyman fears.
“What you’re trying to propose is a size of wastewater treatment plant that will fall back on the shoulders of the ratepayers if people don’t just come and pack this town with houses,” Coyman said.
Lynch said she just wants the facts and figures. The town can then decide when the further expansion will be financially feasible.
“I think it’s a good suggestion,” Brittingham said.
The council members voted unanimously to ask consultant URS to generate cost figures for the additional capacity.