Sewer cut-off rule eyed

SALEM

The city Utilities Commission wants a way to cut off service to sewer-only customers who don’t pay their bill, but a rule needs established first to allow the termination.

The commission agreed Thursday to forward the proposed rule to city council’s Utilities Committee for consideration and a possible recommendation to city council. City council would then have to consider whether to approve the rule before it could become binding.

If a customer fails to pay the water bill and becomes delinquent, the city can shut the water off. With a sewer bill, though, the only way to cut off service would be to plug the pipe which would require digging and there’s nothing on the books that allows that recourse. Currently, if the sewer bill isn’t paid, the city can only certify the amount and place it on the property tax bill.

When asked what prompted the idea, both city Utilities Superintendent Don Weingart and Assistant Utilities Superintendent Matt Hoopes mentioned one customer who hasn’t paid the bill since June and has racked up charges of over $100. Digging up a yard to terminate service will cost a lot more, but Hoopes said that cost will be passed on to the delinquent customer.

Weingart said the state has indicated an entity can create a rule authorizing the discontinuation of service to a property delinquent in paying for sanitary sewer service.

In other business, the commission agreed to extend water service to a property on Salem Unity Road just north of the East State Street Sewage Pumping Station, not far from Walmart, but tabled the request to extend sewer service until a policy can be developed on how to uniformly handle such requests in areas outside of the city limits. Commission Chairman Bob Hodgson said they’ve gotten at least three or more similar requests recently and they need to take a hard look at this because decisions they make could set precedents.

“Can I just get water?” property owner Merle McGuire asked.

Hodgson said it’s not that they’re saying yes or no to him, they just need to have a plan in place. McGuire had requested both water and sewer and put in a deed restriction for annexation if the property ever becomes contiguous to the city. The 2.31-acre property is located in Green Township and he had planned to divide it into two lots, but the township would only allow lots of 1 1/2 acres with 150 feet frontage. He wanted to have water and sewer service and only pay for services for half the frontage. Instead, the commission allowed for water service for the 398 feet of frontage. The cost will be $23 per foot for the frontage.

The commission tabled a request for a sewer extension on South Avenue for the same reason of needing to figure out a plan or procedure to follow in these situations. Hodgson said they need to see what they’re comfortable doing, noting that he’s “uncomfortable with the piecemealing.”

For the South Avenue request, apparently a home on South Avenue is up for sale and it was discovered that the sewer extension crosses the back yard of the neighboring property at the corner of South Avenue and East Perry Street and the neighbor doesn’t want the line used anymore by the South Avenue home. At one time, both properties were owned by the same person, but that’s no longer the case. The cost to extend the sewer line to serve the South Avenue home from the front would be $15,000.

The next meeting of the commission is 4 p.m. Nov. 9. The December meeting will be held at 4 p.m. Dec. 21.

mgreier@salemnews.net

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