Friday, February 27–Berlin Delays EDU Policy Nod

BERLIN – A debate over payments for wastewater capacity and capacity allocation time limits will carry over to next month, after the Berlin Mayor and Council voted to postpone a decision on new wastewater regulations until the next meeting, on March 9, so that a decision could be made by the full council.

Council members Dean Burrell and Lisa Hall were absent Monday night.

“Everyone be prepared to vote next time,” Mayor Gee Williams said.

Under the proposed regulation, builders would pay 10 percent of the EDU fee to the town upon application for wastewater allocation. The rest of the special connection charge must be paid when the owner seeks an actual connection to town systems. The landowner would be obligated to pay a ready-to-serve fee, half the minimum bill, every month until the actual connection is made.

Council members differed over whether the 10 percent up front fee per EDU, when the application for capacity is made, would drive off growth in Berlin.

“Three years ago, I would have said great, a 10 percent deposit is necessary,” said Councilwoman Paula Lynch, referring to the fact it would keep developers from locking up extra EDUs. “I don’t see any developers ready to gobble up anything. I think that 10 percent is a real deterrent now.”

The new policy also locks in the current EDU purchase rate, which benefits developers, according to Berlin Water and Wastewater Director Jane Kreiter.

“It’s costing you on the front end. It’s going to save you in the end,” Kreiter said.

“I don’t see anything wrong with it,” Councilman Elroy Brittingham said.

“It adds on an extra layer of burden,” council member Troy Purnell, himself a developer, countered.

Williams said he thinks this policy protects the town.

“I want Berlin to be a special place. I’m sure most people do,” said Williams. “I think this is encouraging the very best development.”

Having a 10-percent required deposit attracts those committed to Berlin’s future, according to Williams.

“We’re not suffering the worst of the economy. We don’t experience the roller coast effects they do on the coast,” said Williams.

Growth is steady because the community is more permanently attractive, according to the mayor.

“People don’t come in to make a quick buck then leave,” he said. “I don’t see a 10-percent deposit negating that.”

Builders are asking for wastewater capacity right now, according to staff.

“There are people who want EDUs. There are people who are very eager,” Kreiter said. “There are a half dozen people who are waiting anxiously.”

One individual wants more than 50 EDUs, though not for houses, she said. No EDUs will be allocated until the policy is approved, the council has said.    

The town council held the advertised public hearing as scheduled despite its decision to postpone the vote for two weeks.

 Professional planner Sandy Coyman, who is comprehensive planning director for Worcester County, suggested that EDU allocations be placed under a sunset clause, requiring that wastewater capacity to be put into use within five or seven years. If not, the town could recover that capacity.

Coyman said he sees the 10-percent deposit as earnest money.

“What the developer is asking the town is very, very significant,” said Coyman, referring to expensive capital resources. In turn, the town would be providing something quite valuable to the developer, he went on.

Currently, under the policy as presented, once an allocation is made a landowner can hold onto it forever without using it, if a ready-to-serve fee is paid.

Some town lots have sat vacant since created a century ago, Coyman said. Meanwhile, the other ratepayers are bearing the burden of half the capital costs of the unused but allocated capacity. Builders should bear more of that burden, Coyman felt.

The ready-to-serve fee could increase after a minimum time period, he offered, to pay the full capital carrying costs.

“What I think we need is some kind of escape hatch … I’m just afraid, the way this is written, it could lock us in for years and years and years,” Coyman said.

Williams said there would be more discussion about the 10 percent and a possible sunset clause at the next council meeting. The public hearing would also continue then.

The water and sewer allocation policy has been under discussion since January 2008, while work on the current draft began in August 2008.

Some citizens are angry that the work has taken so long, according to Williams, believing worthy projects are being stalled unnecessarily and costing the town viable commercial businesses.

“We want to get it as right as we can,” Williams said.