With residents' support solidly behind them, city officials can now begin improvements to the city's sewer system that could meet increased residential needs for the next 20 years.

Salem residents voted by an 86 to 14 percent margin in the primary to approve two general obligation bonds for the project. The first proposition will allow the town to undertake a $500,000 bond for citywide upgrades in sewer lines, which are undersized and already running at maximum flow capacity, according to Mayor Randy Brailsford.Salem bonded in 1986 to connect many of the current lines, which include 8-inch pipes, to the town's existing wastewater treatment plant. However, Salem has grown faster than officials had anticipated - largely due to Images & Attitudes Inc., Salem's largest industry, which has grown faster than anticipated.

Existing lines should be upgraded to 12-inch pipes, and some work may be needed on trunk lines that carry flows to and from the treatment plant, Brailsford said.

He and other town officials hope to put the project engineering out to bid this month and are currently finishing the paperwork necessary for the bonding. Officials hope construction can begin in the spring, with the system coming on-line in fall 1993.

Residents will not pay higher taxes to repay the $500,000 bond. Salem paid off all its current bonds, except for the 1986 series, earlier this summer. Brailsford said Salem will use residential and business sewer usage payments to fund the improvements, and those payments will not increase for the time being.

The second bond proposition passed by residents will allow Salem officials to refinance the 1986 bond at a lower rate, saving the town more than $20,000 in interest payments.

Brailsford said the city could cut off usage of the old pipe system and convert it for use as a storm-water drainage system, which would feed into Salem Lake.

"Now that we've got most of our bonds repaid, we can start thinking about projects we need for the future," he said. "And there's no time better to get them started than now."