Residential, commercial inspections increase as $10 monthly sewer surcharge goes into effect

Dave Marner

Owensville residents and business owners are reacting to a monthly $10 surcharge which began Oct. 1 by requesting inspections of their “private side” sewage systems.

Jeff Kuhne, public works director for the city, told aldermen on Monday that members of his staff have conducted 731 inspections of residential and commercial sites since the surcharge was announced earlier this year. That number, he said, was “little over halfway, best I can figure,” of the city’s water and sewer accounts.

Kuhne said 179 applications were turned in during September and to date in October by property owners requesting inspections. The city began assessing the $10 surcharge this month to any account holder who had not had an inspection completed on their sewage discharge systems. City workers are looking for excessive storm-water sources entering the city’s sanitary sewer system through basement and storm cellar drains or roof downspouts or sump pumps which put water into lateral sewer mains.

Kuhne said there have been 91 inspections which were deemed to require repair work be done to correct storm-water infiltration and inflow issues. Of those 91 cases, repairs have been completed on 50 of those properties, he told aldermen.

“There’s been a few bumps that we’ve had to work through to manage,” said Kuhne.

Mainly, issues with sump pumps, he said.

“There’s been a lack of, or needing them, or they’ve had them not plumbed correctly,” he said.

Sump pumps are allowed in basements but under the plan to reduce I&I issues residents and businesses are not allowed to discharge storm-water entering a basement into the sanitary sewer line. Correcting this issue means a property owner must pump the water outside their building and discharge it onto the ground.

Kuhne reminded aldermen the surcharge is in response to an Abatement Order on Consent (AOC) the city entered into with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to reduce storm-water inflow and infiltration into the waste water treatment plant. Overflows of untreated sewage into a local creek from the plant following heavy rainfall episodes prompted a DNR investigation which resulted in fines against the city. 

The city paid $3,000 in a reduced and negotiated settlement while agreeing to a plan to reduce I&I through an abatement plan which runs through 2020.

“We’re trying to get the I&I situation under control so the treatment plan isn’t overflowing any more,” Kuhne reminded the board.

Nathan Schauf, the city’s administrator, reminded aldermen the DNR “essentially gave approval for the (surcharge) plan a year ago.”

Part of the plan includes the city offering budgeted funds to help offset costs for qualifying property owners. An application is available at City Hall which property owners must fill out before an inspection is conducted. Inspections are arranged at a time when property owners are available to let city workers into their residences.

“The application gives us permission to do the inspection,” Kuhne told board members.

City staff members are reminding those coming to City Hall to pay their bills about the inspection  and application process. 

Schauf said the city budgeted $10,000 during the current fiscal year to help offset repair costs through a Supplemental Environmental Program — or SEP. Under the AOC with the DNR, the city plans to offer the SEP funds for up to five years. Schauf said the city could extend that offering beyond the five-year period covered through the OAC which started in 2015.

“The first thing is to fill out the application,” said Schauf. “Come down (to City Hall) and see us.”

If repairs are mandated following the inspection, a property owner can submit paid invoices, or proof of repairs being made, to seek a maximum reimbursement of up to 50 percent of the costs — up to $500 — per residence.

“The whole goal with this is to prevent, or stop, rainfall infiltration into the sanitary sewer system,” said Schauf. “The whole system is designed to keep rainfall out, not to retain and treat it.” 

Although the city’s goal is to not have anyone being assessed the surcharge, thereby reducing as much storm-water I&I into the treatment plant, officials acknowledge there are some who will not make repairs.

“For some people, it’s probably cheaper  for some of them to pay the fine rather than make the repairs,” said Mayor John Kamler.

Schauf said staff has been pointing out how much the assessment would add up to over the next four-year period with incremental increases of $5 annually effective as of Oct. 1.

Over the next four year, those who do not have the inspection done  would pay an additional $800 through the monthly surcharge which is scheduled for annual increases from $10, $15, 20 to $25.

Peggy Farrell, the city’s deputy clerk, said renters are beginning to call with concerns about their water bills and the surcharge being added. The city sent letters to property owners notifying them about the  inspection process. But, as Farrell noted, the billing goes to the renter in most instances.

“Some of them have been great to work with,” said Kuhne about  rental property owners. “Some of them…not so much.”