Sewer maintenance relief program could hit taxpayers under new ordinance

By Meg Peters
Review Co-Editor
In a 4-3 vote Lake Orion Village council moved forward with establishing an ordinance that would place the responsibility of sewer line maintenance and repair on property owners.
The introduction and first reading of the Sewer Lead Reasonability Ordinance was passed at the council meeting Monday night with possible adoption at the first meeting in May, after a second reading.
The new ordinance, if adopted, would clarify that property owners are responsible for the maintenance and repair of their building sewer lead or line from their structure to the sewer main. The village in turn would be responsible for the maintenance and repair of the sewer main.
Included in council members’ request to adjust the ordinance, that Village Manager Darwin McClary recommended, was to have the roadway repair be the responsibility of the village and not the homeowner.
“The ordinance is in keeping with our past practice of requiring property owners to be responsible. The only difference now is that the village is accepting responsibility for street repairs,” Village Manager Darwin McClary said.
Creation of the ordinance came on the heels of village resident Natalie Dazersa’s request for the village to reimburse her partially or fully for her $21,000 sewer lead break at the beginning of 2015.
She spent about $18,000 for the excavation and sewer lead replacement and about $2,500 to re-pave the road. No reimbursement was granted.
The first reading was postponed at the March 14 village council meeting mainly because President Pro Tem John Ranville was absent.
“I’m not in favor of it,” Ranville said Monday night. “A lot of communities that set up [relief] programs years ago. We should have done to put a fee on there once a year to help with the replacement costs of the laterals. Individual repairs for the homeowners could be devastating.”
McClary said a relief program was “certainly possible” to incorporate into the ordinance, but it would be placing more burden on village taxpayers who are already looking at hefty water and sewer increases.
“The question becomes whether or not the public is willing to pay for this type of service with the expectation that at some point they will benefit from it,” he said. “Once you start paying for it you can never eliminate the program.”
A relief program it would have to be a voluntary, he said.
“You would tie it to the volume of usage by each homeowner. Can it be done? Yes.”
Council members had mixed feelings about a relief program.
“I think asking all the residents to pay an additional $28 a year to insure themselves, it’s really one-tenth of one percent of the population. That’s what we’re trying to do, to create a policy for one percent, and I don’t think it’s fair to the group,” Councilman Christian Mills said.
Mills was in agreement to establish a relief program, but like many of the other council members, wanted to work out chisel a more-definite program.
“There’s a lot involved in it, such as what do you cap it? How is it shared amongst homes, because one home may have 25 feet they are responsible for and the other may have five?,” President Ken Van Portfliet said.
In Dazersa’s case, her sewer lead was 25 feet below the ground.
“It’s just like car insurance, you may never use it, but if you do, it’s there. If you don’t have this program for a majority of people it could be devastating. They could be bankrupt,” Ranville said.
Councilman Doug Hobbs suggested the village set up a public forum to ask residents what they preferred.
“It seems we can’t come to a decision on it and have various opinions on it,” he said.
Mills also requested that McClary do more research on stop laws insurance.
The motion to declare the first reading was held, and to clarify that it was the responsibility of the village to repair any road damage due to a sewer lead repair, was passed 4-3. Opposed were council members David Churchill, Brad Mathisen, and Pro Tem John Ranville.
“I think we all need to do some research,” Van Portfliet said.