BY ANGELO LYNN
PROCTOR — The Proctor selectboard continues to wrestle with an effective strategy to collect delinquent water fees in a town that does not have water meters (or shut-offs to the house) and that has about $137,000 in delinquent fees outstanding. According to Town Manager Michael Ramsey, there are about 20 residents in town with delinquent bills who either have broken agreements they have defaulted on, or no agreements at all. That amounts to about $32,000 in fees owed to the town. The other $105,000 are delinquent, but residents have existing pay-down agreements with the town and are gradually meeting those obligations.
“It is priority for the selectboard to address this issue, but it’s complicated,” Town Manager Michael Ramsey said of the town’s “interesting or unusual” circumstances.
Because Proctor was once a “company town” for Proctor Marble, Ramsey explained, water was provided to households but no meters were ever installed. That led to the town adopting a system in which water rates are set based on the number of households at a location (single or multi-family) and a rather vague policy for collecting past due fees. The policy outlines measures for the town to notify residents who are past due on their water fees to contact the town treasurer to set up a pay back agreement in which residents keep current on monthly fees due, while also paying off the past-due amounts.
Currently Town Treasurer Celia Lisananti also serves as the town’s collector of current and delinquent taxes, and while water payments are fees (not taxes), Lisananti fills that role too.
The challenge has been in figuring out just how and when water can be shut-off to a resident. Currently, after notification of past due bills, residents have 30 days to respond. To shut off a resident’s water, however, isn’t a simple process. A backhoe has to be used to dig into a person’s yard to do what the town calls a “curb stop” or shutting off the water from the main to the pipe leading to that specific house. That’s a time-consuming and disruptive process for both the town and the property owner.
“This is a hot topic because it’s been dragging on for years,” said selectman Tom Hogan, who has been leading the charge to take firmer action and shut off the water to delinquent accounts.
Ramsey, meanwhile, has to work with Lisananti because by town statute she is the office-holder with the authority to collect the fees. “My relationship with Celia has been excellent since coming here,” Ramsey told the selectboard, “adding that she has really been there for me when I’ve needed her,” adding that they would be working together to get delinquent notices out, and working with residents on manageable agreements. A handful of residents with broken agreements were due to have their water shut off this week or next.
In other news, Ramsey was excited to report the town had received its request of $46,500 from the Mortimer Proctor Trust Fund to finance playground equipment that will be located adjacent to the town skating rink and at the hub of the town’s trail system.
“It’s a really exciting development” to receive the full amount, Ramsey said, making the project ready for construction as early as this coming fall.
Under the agenda item Good Stuff, Ramsey praised the efforts of local volunteers during Green Up Day. “It’s just a really great community event that’s close to my heart,” Ramsey said. He praised local high school students for their effort in cleaning up the town on Friday, and said that about 150 people broke larger items to the town’s Bulky Waste Drop-off on Saturday that was held in conjunction with Green Up Day. The town collected more than three dumpster’s worth of garbage.
“People were really appreciative of the ability to get rid of their larger items,” Ramsey said, adding it hadn’t been done in a while and “people were very grateful.”
In other business:
• The town is proceeding with a wetland permit for the Willow Street wastewater project, noting that a public hearing is set for May 20 for any public comments.
• Ramsey reported that resident Lisa Miser had stepped forward to take on the position as pool director. The pool will open on the last day of school (June 13) at 1 p.m., and will plan to open Thursday through Sundays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., depending on whether they are able to hire an adequate number of lifeguards and staff.
• A facilities use agreement for nonprofits and others using town-owned property — town roads for parades, the skating rink, etc. — was approved unanimously by the board after several weeks of discussion.
• And the selectboard authorized Ramsey to solicit three bids for installing a heat pump in the town hall meeting room.