Originally published in Castine Patriot, November 18, 2021
Castine Select board approves sewer rate hike, water budget
Asks Island Name Change Committee to try again
Castine select board member Colin Powell, center, explains the new video conferencing set-up in Emerson Hall. From left to right are Town Clerk Susan Macomber, board members Peter Vogell, Gordon MacArthur and Powell and Town Manager Shawn Blodgett.
The select board approved a 15 percent increase to sewer rates paid by customers at their meeting on November 15. The sewer department has run at a deficit for several years, according to town Finance Officer Karen Motycka.
The increase will cover sewer department operations and permit the department to pay back the town for its deficit over time.
Five members of the public were present in person for the meeting, and a few more attended via remote connection.
The board of Peter Vogell, Colin Powell and Gordon MacArthur approved the rate hike unanimously. They also approved a water department budget of more than $562,000, which represents a 1 percent increase over last year.
The select board also reappointed the Island Name Change Committee, a committee investigating alternate names for the Negro Islands in the Bagaduce River.
The INCC attempted to make recommendations to the select board in time for the November election but failed to satisfy the select board then. More time was needed, the board said, back in October.
The Island Name Change Committee has stated that one of its goals is to honor Black or Native Americans in the naming process.
They will try again to reach that goal with many of the same members and the notable addition of Rachel Talbot Ross.
Ross is a state representative from Portland and the first and only Black woman elected to the state legislature. She is a ninth-generation Mainer and is “one of the leading voices” on this issue, according to Town Manager Shawn Blodgett. “She enthusiastically agreed,” he said of her willingness to join the committee.
The town manager also reported to the board that the final paving project of the season, near School Street, will be completed this week. Public works will finish refurbishing the salt shed out near the transfer station, he told the board. Then, they will turn their attention to clearing the storm drains and ditches now that the leaves have fallen from the trees.
Blodgett also reported on his initial investigation into obtaining a surveillance video camera for the town dock. Quotes received ranged between about $2,000 and $4,000.
Finally, he reported that the electronic SCADA system that allows real-time monitoring of the water system is nearly fully operational. SCADA stands for Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition.
He reminded the board and the town that COVID transmission rates are high in Maine and Hancock County and that masks are still recommended in many situations.
In other business, the board approved a survey prepared by the Ad Hoc Sidewalk Committee designed to query residents about the state of Castine’s sidewalks. The Sidewalk Committee seeks a path to both long-term maintenance of the town’s sidewalks and toward snow removal in winter.
In addition, the board heard from the chair of the Comprehensive Planning Committee, Kate Noel, who recapped the successful initial open house event that the committee sponsored back in October.
She told the board that the committee is beginning to engage with stakeholder groups, including MMA, the Golf Club, town committees and others.
Noel also outlined the future plans for the committee. A public opinion survey is being prepared and should be available in January, she said. In the April to May 2022 time period, the committee will meet with subject matter experts. Its long term goal is to have a comprehensive plan to be voted on by the town by May 2023.
The Utility Board felt it was necessary to raise sewer rates, in part, because revenue was down during the pandemic, especially when MMA, the largest sewer customer, went to remote teaching, according to Motycka.
The last sewer rate increase was enacted in 2018. The Utility Board had not recommended an increase sooner due to COVID-19, but it can’t wait any longer, according to the minutes of the November 4 Utility Board meeting.
The current sewer rates paid by customers are $135 per quarter for up to 800 cubic feet and $24.25 per every additional 100 cubic feet. The new rates are $155.25 and $27.90, respectively.
Seasonal customers would pay $621 per year for usage, up to 1,100 cubic feet and $27.90 for each additional 100 cubic feet.
The rate increase takes effect in the final quarter of 2021, October through December.
Board members Powell and MacArthur agreed to share chair duties during the upcoming and inevitable winter months. Normally, it would be Peter Vogell’s turn to chair the board, but he spends the winter in Florida now. While he will join the winter meetings by remote connection, Vogell feels that the chair should be present in person. “I used to fly back every two weeks,” he said. “I’m not doing that anymore.”
Vogell will resume chair duties in May, when he returns to Castine with the good weather.