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PEMBROKE

Unpaid sewer bills spur review

Department lacks power to levy liens

  • Gerry Fleury, vice chair, speaks about the sewer commission during Pembroke's  town meeting at the auditorium in Pembroke Academy on Saturday morning, March 16, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Gerry Fleury, vice chair, speaks about the sewer commission during Pembroke's town meeting at the auditorium in Pembroke Academy on Saturday morning, March 16, 2013.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • From left, Bette Parker and her husband Jim Parker, of Pembroke, talk during the Pembroke town meeting at the auditorium in Pembroke Academy on Saturday morning, March 16, 2013. The two were among several people at the meeting wearing green for St. Patrick's Day.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    From left, Bette Parker and her husband Jim Parker, of Pembroke, talk during the Pembroke town meeting at the auditorium in Pembroke Academy on Saturday morning, March 16, 2013. The two were among several people at the meeting wearing green for St. Patrick's Day.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • David M. Jodoin, Pembroke town administrator, listens to residents during the town meeting at the auditorium in Pembroke Academy on Saturday morning, March 16, 2013. Jodoin received a standing ovation after a resident commended him for his hard work.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    David M. Jodoin, Pembroke town administrator, listens to residents during the town meeting at the auditorium in Pembroke Academy on Saturday morning, March 16, 2013. Jodoin received a standing ovation after a resident commended him for his hard work.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Pembroke selectman, John Duggan, Jr., smoothed his mustache while listening to a resident during the town meeting at the auditorium in Pembroke Academy on Saturday morning, March 16, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Pembroke selectman, John Duggan, Jr., smoothed his mustache while listening to a resident during the town meeting at the auditorium in Pembroke Academy on Saturday morning, March 16, 2013.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Gerry Fleury, vice chair, speaks about the sewer commission during Pembroke's  town meeting at the auditorium in Pembroke Academy on Saturday morning, March 16, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • From left, Bette Parker and her husband Jim Parker, of Pembroke, talk during the Pembroke town meeting at the auditorium in Pembroke Academy on Saturday morning, March 16, 2013. The two were among several people at the meeting wearing green for St. Patrick's Day.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • David M. Jodoin, Pembroke town administrator, listens to residents during the town meeting at the auditorium in Pembroke Academy on Saturday morning, March 16, 2013. Jodoin received a standing ovation after a resident commended him for his hard work.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Pembroke selectman, John Duggan, Jr., smoothed his mustache while listening to a resident during the town meeting at the auditorium in Pembroke Academy on Saturday morning, March 16, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

Pembroke voters authorized a $7.68 million budget and an additional $555,000 for reserve funds at yesterday’s town meeting.

They also directed selectmen to study the possibility of absorbing the operations of the sewer department, which has an outstanding balance of uncollected fees totaling more than $170,000.

Sewer Commissioner Paulette Malo tried but failed to amend the warrant article so the selectmen would be mandated to agree by June to a plan for assuming bill collection for the department. Before 2004, the town did collect sewer bills, and since then, unpaid bills have been growing because the commission doesn’t have the power to levy liens, she said.

But budget committee Vice Chairman Gerry Fleury spoke in favor of taking the next year to study what should be done about the department.

“The sewer commissioners are doing the best they can, but they are in way over their heads. The selectmen are recognizing that if something goes wrong, if we have sewage spilling out into the river, we are going to have the state and the feds on us, and we’re all gonna pay for that,” Fleury said.

Selectmen Chairman Fred Kline also spoke against the amendment, saying the town offices aren’t equipped or sufficiently staffed to take over the billing so quickly. The town billing and the sewer billing are on incompatible computer systems, and rushing the data entry that needs to be done by hand could result in errors, Town Administrator David Jodoin said.

“If the committee comes back next year and says we should take it over, we’ll organize and move in that direction,” Kline said. “This is something that is done in other towns. The sewer commissions go to the town with their warrant (of unpaid bills), they get a check and then the town retrieves the bills and collects additional fees. In theory, the town makes the collections with no impact to the taxpayer. Our concern right now is the timing.”

The voters did amend a warrant article that had asked them only to accept a report from a committee that studied the viability of retaining town ownership of a building at 4-6 Union St. The amended article instead directed the selectmen to retain the property.

Dana Carlucci moved for the amendment and more direct instructions to the selectmen.

“This is a huge asset to the town,” he said. The site provides municipal parking, social gathering space and roughly $4,000 more in rent each of the past three years than was required for repairs and maintenance, according to the report.

The site does need exterior work, including repairs to the retaining walls.

The 62-58 vote in favor of the amendment was the closest of the day, requiring Moderator Tom Petit to count the voting cards. Petit declared the vote also affirmed the town’s wishes to accept the amended article.

Kline opened the meeting by calling Fire Department Chief Harold Paulsen and Asst. Chief John Theuner to the front of the crowd, where he gave them plaques for serving 50 years in the department.

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

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