BERLIN – Berlin sewer customers will pay 5 percent more for sewer service as the town moves to expand the maxed out sewage treatment plant.
The increase, originally predicated on a single plant to be expanded to 1.4 million gallons per day (mgd), will stay at 5 percent despite the recent agreement in principle to allow a second plant at the Tyson property. That second plant, at 150,000 gallons per day, would allow Berlin to reduce its plant expansion to 1.25 mgd.
“I believe the 5-percent increase in user fees is worthwhile trying to start as soon as possible,” said engineering consultant Mark Prouty of URS.
Funds are needed because the plant is no longer adequate for existing uses, not just to supply new construction, he said.
The average annual user fee for sewer service will increase by less than $30, from $559.17, to $588.60.
The Berlin plant is conservatively estimated at $11.6 million for the 1.25 mgd expansion, compared to $12.1 million for 1.4 mgd.
The Berlin special connection fee would be increased from $7,300, said Prouty, but he could not say whether the increase would balloon to $8,000 as originally calculated or as much as $9,000. The fee would not apply to developer Troy Purnell’s Crossroads project, which would be located within a separate sewer service area.
The developer and homeowners at the Crossroads, not Berlin’s sewer customers, would fund the smaller plant.
The special connection fee numbers are not firm, officials cautioned.
“There are many ways to modify this,” Prouty said.
Much will depend on the number of EDUs to be handed out each year, Prouty added.
Gee Williams, Berlin Council Vice President, estimated that the town would allow 100 EDUs to be allocated per year at the low end and 200 at the high. The council, he said, will take into account the advice of the town Planning and Zoning Commission and the Berlin Utility Commission in making a political judgment on EDU allocation.
The allocation policy will govern the process, he said.
“It’s nice to know this can work at this low a level but I think it’s fantasy to think we’ll have a policy that maximizes the cost to homeowners and make this more of an uphill battle than it has to be,” Williams said.
Figures used to estimate fee increases included a loan at 5 percent interest, said Prouty, but there is good reason to think the town could get a better deal, like the state revolving loan fund at 1.5 percent.
“That makes these numbers look better also,” Prouty said. “The path you have taken is not infeasible in terms of the financing of it.”
The town will pay $1.8 million for the first year out of special connection fees already banked.
The application currently before Worcester County asking for an amendment to the county water and sewer plan, based only on the expansion of the Berlin plant, would not have to be resubmitted, said Prouty.
“It’s obvious we could make two applications. We think the single application already in just amended would be the best course of action,” he said.
Berlin will maintain its commitment to remove more nutrients from town-generated effluent than required by state law, said Williams.
Purnell has said the Crossroads plant will be similar to the plant in Ocean Pines, which meets Enhanced Nutrient Removal standards.
Berlin Mayor Tom Cardinale wants to see all the players work together.
“My hope boils down to this: I would love to see the BUC, URS, UPN, and Mayor and Council all in the same room. I think that ought to be our goal,” he said. He added, “I want to hear it all.”