Citizen Excuses Connection Fee For Planning Chair

BERLIN – Redeveloped lots in Berlin must maintain their water and sewer connections or face substantial fees to re-connect to the system, one homeowner learned this week.

The legal code of Berlin does not include a process for reinstating a previously existing water connection that has been removed through redevelopment. Under the current code, the town could assess the full special connection fee, $11,600 for water and sewer, as well as ready-to-serve fees every month until the new tap is in place, on such a property.

Property owner Newt Chandler, who is also the chair of the Berlin Planning Commission, bought the lot next to his home and demolished the house on the lot to make a play yard for his children in 2000, a few years before the special connection fee was imposed. He never received a bill for the ready-to-serve fee he should have been paying.

Recently Chandler decided to build a pool on the property and a bathhouse and asked to reinstate the water and sewer connections.

Chandler argued Monday night that a house with sewer and water connections had occupied the lot when he bought the land and that the connection would not be a new one. Since he had not known when he removed the water meter that the fees would be created years later, and was not personally notified of the new fees, Chandler said he should not be subject to them.

“When I removed the meter, the presumption there was I always could put it back the way it was,” Chandler said.

“If he knew he had to pay $11,000, he never would have taken it out,” said Council member Paula Lynch.

Council member Elroy Brittingham, who owns a never-built vacant lot, felt Chandler should pay the fees to make the process fair for all vacant lot owners.

Council member Dean Burrell said he felt there was no difference between the two types of properties.

“I don’t think the town can be held responsible for what the citizen knows or doesn’t,” Burrell said.

“Ignorance is no excuse,” said Council Vice President Ellen Lang.

With no codified process or policy, the council decided on leniency, voting to throw out the special connection fee in this case and require Chandler to pay minimum water bills retroactively, allowing him to retain the tap. Burrell voted against the motion.

Staff will write legislation to codify the process for redeveloped properties in similar situations.

“You can’t pick and choose who you make the exception for,” said Berlin Administrative Director Linda Bambary.