Voters approve $22.9M budget, wastewater upgrades

May 15, 2018

As the first night of Marion's annual Town Meeting closed out on May 14, voters approved the town's $22,877,298 operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year, as well as $2.5M in upgrades to the town's wastewater treatment plant.

The wastewater treatment upgrades were approved reluctantly, however. The $2.5M is intended to upgrade the sewer treatment plant to conform to standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA recently granted Marion's wastewater treatment plant a new operating permit, with the understanding that it will meet several requirements, including building upgrades, lining one sewer lagoon (the treatment plant has three) and limiting phosphorus and nitrogen leakages.

Failure to conform to those requirements by December 1, 2019, said Marion Town Administrator Paul Dawson, means that the EPA could swoop in at any time with either a court or an administrative order to get the work done; because the Town of Marion already agreed to meet the requirements, the town would be required to raise the necessary money for upgrades anyway. Plus, he added, the town would be fined anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000 per day that they don't meet EPA requirements.

The $2.5M will be footed by residents who are tied into the town's sewer, though they remain a minority to residents who have private septic systems. Several residents on the town's sewer system expressed their discontent at having to pay for something they said they were told would be less expensive, with one resident telling administrators to either get the entire town tied in to the sewer, or find another way to pay the costs.

Dawson explained that a previous Town Meeting vote means that Marion's accounting system is an enterprise system—sewer bills pay for sewer issues, water bills pay for water issues, and so forth. "I understand people don't like this, but this is what the town chose," he said.

When one resident asked how much the sewer bills would rise if the upgrades were approved, Town Accountant Judy Mooney said that the rates could rise anywhere from three to 10 percent; a yearly increase of about $28.64 for a single person, to $214 for a family of five.

Resident Joe Zora asked Dawson how much more money would be needed to completely finish all of the upgrades required at the treatment plant; Dawson told him that he expected the cost to be between $7-8M.

"Really? We still need to fix all the phosphorus leaks, and do a bunch of others things," Zora countered. "I expect the total cost to be more like $30-40M."

While residents remained concerned about the possibility of steeper sewer bills, Lee Vulgaris advocated for approving the upgrades.

"I reluctantly say that we vote in favor," he said. "Every time we've put something off, it's cost us more and more down the road. I'm not in favor, but I'll vote in favor."

Residents ultimately agreed, choosing to pass the agreement, 206-20.

Marion's Town Meeting will continue on May 15, in the auditorium of Sippican School.