It's been about seven years since Stockton Springs authorized a study for waste water treatment options and residents did not mince words about a proposed new study.

“I encourage people to vote this down; we've already done it,” one man said during the annual town meeting June 17. A woman described the study as putting the cart before the horse, because there are no known businesses with interests in Stockton Springs that hinge on development of water treatment services.

Over those objections, and concerns that people will be forced to connect, residents narrowly approved funding for a new, smaller study with a 25-21 vote.

During an informational meeting prior to town meeting, Chris Dwinal and Michael Stein of Wright-Pierce, a Topsham-based engineering firm, explained the scope and selectmen explained the potential benefits of the study.

Dwinal noted a much larger study was done in 2009-2010 and residents at that time rejected the findings as too expensive. The new study, he said, will encompass about a third of the area, with a focus on the Commercial Zone west of downtown. Placing a treatment plant on town-owned land would be considered, but if there is no town land available in the study area, the town would need to “secure private land,” Dwinal said.

The cost of the study is $12,000, which Selectman Lesley Cosmano noted was negotiated down from $15,000 because parts of the 2009/2010 study can be reused. To reach $12,000, $7,000 later was approved to be raised and appropriated from taxes, in addition to $5,000 from the Economic Development Capital Reserve account.

“The town is at a crossroads right now,” she said. “(It) could become a ghost town or taken over by Searsport. … We have to do something; we can't continue with taxpayers carrying the entire town.”

Cosmano said it is important to have the study to understand what is involved in building a small waste water treatment plant, which is hoped will attract economic development to the town and increase the tax base, thereby reducing the cost of property taxes for everyone. By no means are selectmen ignoring existing businesses, she said, noting a plan is in motion to increase parking in the downtown area — addressing the largest single complaint from downtown business owners.

Answering a resident's question, Dwinal said permits are not required during the projected 60-day study period.

“We're not looking to go drill holes on people's property,” he said.

Selectman Peter Curley said the previous study estimated a much larger waste water system could cost the town up to $10 million. The smaller study — and system — would create room for development that otherwise might reject Stockton Springs as a viable location.

“A number of businesses in downtown already failed,” Curley said.

Residents argued that businesses do not chose a location based on the availability of sewer service; questioned whether, where the service passes by a residence, that house would be required to connect; and expressed concern that by-products could contaminate Stockton Harbor.

Dwinal clarified that any system built by the town would require an ownership decision and an ordinance. In addition, it would be “up to the town to decide if people are forced to connect,” he said.

Previously, town officials considered connecting to Searsport's system, but the distance and size of the treatment plant in Searsport were a problem, Dwinal said.

A few residents spoke in favor of the study as well.

“Nobody has a crystal ball,” one woman said, “if we want to see our town grow, this is something that needs to happen.”

A majority of residents present agreed and approved funding the study. Once the study is complete, it will include cost estimates for the system.

“Then it goes to the town for a vote,” Curley said. “Ultimately, it's up to the people in town to decide (if they want to build a system and treatment plant).”

In other business, residents approved the municipal budget without changes to the selectmen's recommendations. The budget does exceed the state-recommended property tax levy limit by about $50,000; the article to approve the increase passed 38-12.

Voters also approved updates and grammatical corrections to several ordinances, including Land Use, Site Plan Review, Coastal Water & Harbor and Shellfish Conservation.