City mulls sewer discount for seniors

VERGENNES — At the Vergennes city council meeting this past Tuesday, aldermen discussed a suggestion by Deputy Mayor Randy Ouellette that the city offer senior citizens a discount on sewer bills.
In a Thursday interview, City Manager Mel Hawley said aldermen did not act, but indicated they might consider such a move in the future.
“That is something that is worthy of looking at it,” Hawley said.
One reason aldermen did not move immediately is because of an unknown expense in the sewer ledger — how much it will cost to remove sludge from the treatment plant’s septic lagoons.
Officials had hoped this fall to dredge out a second batch of sludge from one lagoon and spread it on state-owned farmland in the city’s northwest corner.
But persistent wet weather meant a water table that was too close to the surface to allow sludge spreading, Hawley said, and that project has been delayed until whenever the weather cooperates in 2011.
Even though Vergennes spread an initial batch of sludge on the land a year ago, with the state’s blessing, and spreading is less expensive than other means of sludge disposal, the final costs are still a moving target, Hawley said.
“One of the things we need to get a handle on is the cost of disposal,” he said.
Aldermen in the past decade have raised sewer rates, and the sewer fund has a surplus that has grown to $70,000, Hawley said. If the sludge disposal costs are reasonable, and aldermen can give seniors a break without unreasonably raising rates for other citizens, the council could revisit the question next year.
“I think that it is something the board will be discuss once we have a clearer understanding of the revenue stream and expenses,” he said.
Hawley said Ouellette raised the issue, at least in part, because the Vergennes-Panton Water District just increased its rates. Most single-family households will see a jump from around $175 a year to roughly $368 a year.
Water district officials planned to raise rates whether or not their $5 million upgrade proposal for the district’s waterfront treatment plant was approved.
Hawley said at this point it is too late for opponents who tried to petition voter approval of the project — including Ouellette — to further oppose that project in court.
In other business last week, aldermen:
• Supported preliminary work by Hawley and City Clerk Joan Devine to rewrite the city’s dog law. They are proposing fines of $50 per offense, plus boarding fees, to replace an existing fine schedule that escalates up to $250 for repeat offenders.
They also propose that City Hall does all fine and fee collection rather than asking the pound to do so. Vergennes Animal Hospital owners had declined to continue as the city’s pound, but are willing to stay on until at least April under that arrangement.
Hawley and Devine plan to bring a formal proposal to aldermen on Nov. 16, the council’s only November meeting.
• Heard from Hawley that fiscal year spending is so far on track. Police spending is running high, he said on Thursday, because of equipment purchases made early in the fiscal year. But Hawley said careful management should bring that department’s budget into line by next spring. Public works, meanwhile, may be on the low side, he said, but the great unknown of winter road maintenance costs lies in wait.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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