WINDHAM – The town has seven weeks to inform its residents about a proposed $37.8 million sewer project that would serve North Windham and Windham Center, raise the tax rate and impose fees on more than 400 property owners on routes 202 and 302.

As of now, people know nothing about the proposal, said residents who spoke at a meeting Tuesday night, when the Town Council decided to ask voters on Nov. 6 whether to build the project.

“I’ve asked numerous people about the sewer project and nobody seems know anything,” said Nancy Murdoch, who went to the town offices looking for answers and was directed to the Internet.

Jarrod Maxfield, who owns a technology business in Portland, said that for the past few months, he has been asking customers who live in Windham about their thoughts on the project.

“Nobody has any idea,” he said.

Town officials have been talking about bringing sewerage to Windham’s commercial center for decades. The town has been working with an engineering firm for about three years and has been putting together a proposal for voters for the past several months, officials said Tuesday.

“To say we’re rushing or cramming it down your throats, I don’t believe that,” said Council Chairman Scott Hayman.

Hayman said the council has been discussing the project for the past six months and information has been available to anyone who has wanted it.

“To sit here and tell us we haven’t tried to educate and made the attempt to educate, I take offense to it,” he said, though he later apologized for blaming residents for not paying attention.

The sewer system would protect an aquifer where wastewater is now discharged. It also is meant to draw businesses that wouldn’t come to Windham if they had to build septic systems.

Most people who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting said they think the town will eventually need a sewer system but now isn’t the right time because the economy is still in recovery and residents don’t know enough about the project to cast an informed vote.

The town hired the Barton & Gingold communications firm to do public outreach on the project.

Randy Seaver, a consultant with the firm, said a website about the project, www.windhamsewerproject.org, was launched several weeks ago and he plans to make presentations to several local groups.

There’s a draft of a brochure about the project, Seaver said, but because some information has changed it hasn’t been distributed.

He said he had spoken to the superintendent of schools about enlisting the help of high school students, who have a community service requirement, to help get the word out.

Carol Waig, a former town councilor, noted that the town is paying Barton & Gingold more than $18,000 for its work.

“I expect you to do it, sir, not the children in the high school,” she said to Seaver.

Waig questioned how she is supposed to get the right information about the project if the town doesn’t have enough details to distribute the flier.

The council has been deciding on the specifics of paying to build, operate and maintain the sewer system, which isn’t expected to be running before 2016.

The plan includes raising the tax rate by $1 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, meaning the annual tax bill for a $200,000 home would go up $200.

Property owners along Route 202, from the rotary at Route 302 to the school complex, and on Route 302, from the rotary to Enterprise Drive, would have access to the system and pay annual fees for the service, starting at $696 and increasing depending on the amount of wastewater discharged.

Commercial, government and institutional properties in that area would be required to connect to the sewer system. Residents wouldn’t have to hook up, but those who didn’t would have to pay an annual $285 ready-to-use fee.

The owners of all properties in the area, except farms, would have to pay $12.30 per foot of road frontage as a one-time fee.

The council on Tuesday adopted the plan for paying for the sewer system and set those rates and fees for residents.

On each vote, Councilors Thomas Gleason and Dennis Welch were opposed and the other four — Hayman, Kevin Call, Matt Noel and David Nadeau — were in favor.

Town Manager Tony Plante asked residents on Tuesday to be open-minded and willing to learn more.

“When it comes to a project of this magnitude, if we wait for a good time, no good time will arrive,” he said.

 

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

lbridg[email protected]