A sewer betterment assessment is a special tax that is assessed by the Lancaster Sewer District Commission (LSDC) to properties that have been "bettered" by the construction of a public sewer. Betterment assessments are a form of taxation, and, until paid, constitute a lien upon the land assessed. Service by a public sewer is an improvement over on-site wastewater disposal (i.e. septic systems, etc.). Therefore, when a municipality constructs public sewers, the value of those properties abutting the sewer line are said to have been improved or "bettered." In Massachusetts, sewer betterments are governed by Chapters 80 and 83 (excluding Sections 1 and 2 of Chapter 80) and are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Revenue. Sewer betterment assessments are monies intended to pay back all or a portion of the debt service of the "local share" of the sewer construction and associated engineering capital costs.
Currently, the LSDC has the following betterment areas:
North George Hill Road $13,890 original principal per Unit - Filed in 2009, annual payment $1,106 per unit
South George Hill Road $19,522 original principal per Unit - Filed in 2007, annual payment $1,555 per unit
Center District $12,085 original principal per Unit - Filed in 2004, annual payment $962 per unit
All betterments include 5% interest that is amortized over the 20 year duration. The interest is applied annually each July.
The LSDC provides one free closeout statement and account summary once per year to customers upon request.
Closeouts and breakdowns will only be supplied to the property owner or owners agent. Please contact the LSDC office for details.
A more detailed breakdown of historical payments and including annual interest and principal applications for accounts is also available upon request. Preparation of this detailed breakdown is a labor intensive process and requires a two week lead time. An administrative fee for preparing this breakdown may be required.
Calculation of Betterments
There are two (2) basic methods allowed by MGL for calculating sewer betterment assessments; the “fixed uniform rate" method and the "uniform unit" method.
The LSDC approved the "uniform unit" method, which defines each property as a number of "sewer units" and divided the assessment costs by the total number of sewer units included in the project. A "sewer unit" is defined as a single-family residence. Therefore, a two-family residence is equal to two (2) sewer units, three-family to three (3) sewer units, etc.
Commercial, industrial and vacant properties are calculated into "single family equivalents" to include them in the assessment. This is done by calculating average water usage for developed properties based on 310 CMR 15 (Title 5). Undeveloped properties are assessed a single unit betterment with any future subdivision subject to additional betterments and fees equal to the number of new lots.
The sewer betterment assessment is a one time special tax that can be paid in one lump sum or apportioned up to a maximum of twenty (20) years. Those property owners who do not pay in full at the time the betterment is assessed will have the remainder of their assessments amortized over the next twenty (20) years at a rate of five percent (5%) interest added annually to the unpaid balance. A lien recorded at the Worcester County Registry of Deeds listing the unpaid betterments is placed on the properties receiving the assessment. This filing entitles the Lancaster Sewer District with the appropriate mechanism to assess and collect the sewer betterment.
Once a betterment is paid in full the LSDC will, upon written request, provide a Lien Release Certificate to be recorded at the Registry of Deeds. The certificate must be brought to the Lancaster Collector's Office for signature and then must be filed at the Worcester County Registry of Deeds. The cost payable to the Registry to record the certificate is $75.00.
Abatements and Relief
After a betterment is initially assessed, property owners may apply for abatement from the betterment or other forms of relief allowable by law. The Commission shall only consider requests for Abatements within one year of the date of initial betterment issuance. For purposes of this policy, the initial betterment issuance shall mean the date affixed to the letter or bill notifying the inhabitants of the bettered area that a betterment has been assessed on their property.
Betterment assessment bills are invoiced twice per year in the first and third quarters of the fiscal year. Betterments are billed as part of the annual property tax assessment bills.
When a payment is made that exceeds the amount of the minimum interest plus principal due, the full amount of the excess payment shall be applied towards future principal.
Future interest / principal payment splits of the level term payment shall be calculated based solely upon the outstanding principal and will not be fixed according to the original payment schedule. The interest shall be calculated by multiplying the outstanding principal balance by the term interest rate as originally assessed.
Betterments versus Sewer Entrance Charge in Lieu of Assessment
When a property is bettered there is no connection charge. However, for all properties that may subdivide into additional lots after the betterment is assessed there will be a Sewer Entrance Charge due when the newly created property connects to the Commission sewer. This charge will typically be equal to the single unit betterment of the parent property. More information on these charges and other can be found in the Schedule of Fees.