Why Won't My Town Let Me Worry About My Own Crap?

Terri writes that when the homes in her neighborhood were built more than 60 years ago, they were built with septic tanks instead of being part of a municipal sewer system. Instead of maintaining their own tanks, some residents want to be part of the sewer system, and the neighborhood is about to become one with the sewer system. Terri wonders: what can she do to stop this? She’d welcome input from any readers who have had similar experiences.

We live in the suburbs of [a city in the Northeast] on a quiet residential street with homes that were built with septic systems in the 1940s. Many of us maintain our systems and they work just fine. But, those who do not take care of their crap (literally) are whining for someone else to fix their problems. Now we’ve been told that the County Health Department has been involved and according to our township’s sanitary authority, the only solution is to run sewage to 37 homes along the street with an estimated price tag of $850,000.

We met with the sanitary authority board a few days ago to hear specifics as we were told in a letter that there would be an open discussion as to “whether or not” the project would proceed. However, at the meeting the board members simply stated that the project is moving forward and they just needed the formal vote. Based on the $850,000 proposal submitted to the county, the township has received a grant for $100,000, but they have yet to complete a finance plan and to find the additional funds. We’ve been told that “on average, tap in fees range from $10,000 – $12,000″, but when I further questioned the board members regarding the $850,000 cost, we were told that we could also be responsible for a portion of this overall cost.

My questions:

1. Can we fight this in any way?

2. Are we, the residents, required to pay additional fees if the township cannot fund the $850,000 estimated project cost?

3. The “on average” fees are extremely high from what I’ve read of neighboring municipalities, is this the norm?

4. Are there any lending programs available which may help us?

Thanks in advance for any advice and/or suggestions.

Start by taking these questions to your elected representatives, any that you might have depending on the structure of government: mayor, county or state legislatures, county executive, and so on.

Comments

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  1. Anonymously says:

    A similiar thing happened to my mom and they threatened to put her in jail for not paying. Good luck.

    • DariusC says:

      Agreed. My dad had to pay 3.5k or else… There is no around this. Sorry chap, this is a government push.

    • CrazyPiggy says:

      Wouldnt that be considered grand larceny: “larceny accompanied by aggravating circumstances (as the use of threats)”. I’m no lawyer, and I do not claim to be one, but I believe forcing someone to pay for a service that they do not need via thin veiled threats seems illegal to me.

  2. Hoss says:

    Write your representative. They handle crap every day

  3. Skellbasher says:

    All of this depends on the local laws and government structure in your area.

    When the town I grew up in ran sewers, properties had an option if they wanted to tie in or not. There’s not enough information here to know if the tie in is mandatory or optional.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      A manual tie in would clearly be a burden. But apparentlyutilities do have the option to force a charge for construction and whatnot. A coworkers had a $800-1000 special assessment done for new piping in her specific neighborhood, which she didn’t get much control over whether or not she paid it.

  4. MaelstromRider says:

    I’m thinking that you and your neighbors that don’t want this need to band together and get an attorney to look into this for you. Yes, you can probably do it yourselves but you might miss something and this is some significant money on the line. The cost of an attorney is negligible when compared to even the $10k per house fee.

    • TVGenius says:

      This isn’t a DIY project. A lot depends on the local codes and ordinances too, as to whether she can opt out, or even fight it at this point. In some cases, they’ll run the mains and put stubs in for existing properties, but won’t actually connect them unless they’re willing to pay (I have family in a county island that got this offer from the city here). When they decide later they want to connect, they pay and get a contractor to run the last 50′.

      • kujospam says:

        But have fun selling your house when they notice everyone else is on city, and your on septic. Most people don’t want to deal with that, and it is expensive having to pay to join later. Think of it as raising your property value.

  5. SkokieGuy says:

    Sounds like the OP is objecting because modernizing her sanitation will cost money. Before protesting, why not find out final costs to you, and have the municipality put it in writing?

    Think about the costs to service your septic system that will go away, possibly lower homeowners insurance rates and the higher resale value of your home.

    • TuxthePenguin says:

      You mean someone should sit down and look at more than the upfront costs? What do you think this is, a personal finances si… oh, wait…

    • Bunnies Attack! says:

      I live in the suburbs of [a city in the midwest] and we’re one unincorporated neighborhood surrounded by incorporated neighborhoods. This means we have well water and septic, no street lights, no sidewalks, big properties.

      I don’t believe the use of a septic field affected my insurance at all, they didn’t ask for it, I’m not even sure its covered. The actual maintenance cost of servicing a septic tank is pretty negligible. If its properly designed, you just need to pump it out once every 5-10 years or so. Some places recommend pumping out every year but talking to most of my neighbors they haven’t pumped it out in 10-20 years. Pumping costs around $100.

      The down side of switching to city sewage is that you’d probably end up paying higher taxes year after year. In our case, getting city water and sewer would incorporate us into the city and our taxes would go up (but extra services including library access), its hard to tell from the OP’s story whether they’re already incorporated and just don’t have sewage yet.

      As a side note, I’d pay GOOD MONEY to get city water at this point, we have so many damn hoops to jump through to get water that only smells a little like metal and sulphur (as opposed to a lot and staining everything yellow)

      • MrsBug says:

        They haven’t pumped their tanks in 20 years? You’ll be seeing the excavators show up any day now since their tanks will be full and their septic field clogged with crap. It costs $250 in our area to have it pumped, but it’s a lot cheaper than $5000 for a new septic field and tank.

        • Bunnies Attack! says:

          Nah, google it (but not sites for companies that sell septic pumping service), a lot of people don’t pump for a long time without any problems. Its really not necessary if you follow a few simple rules and the tank is properly sized for the house & occupants. Granted, a lot of the houses here are filled with empty nesters so you have tanks designed for 4-8 people being used by 2 people.

        • Firethorn says:

          My grandparents didn’t get theirs pumped for over 20 years.

          Of course, they have have an old concrete tank that’s sized for like 5 people for just the 2 of them, with accompaning oversized leech field, AND a grey water system. They also knew not to dump things down the drain (scraps went to the dogs or the garbage, not down the drain).

          It still works just fine.

          Still, $6k every 20 years for a septic system works out to roughly $25/month, so consider that. $8500 would be enough for me to want to stay on septic.

          • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

            i’ve been told to expect to have mine pumped in 9-10 years. it was pumped a year and a half before i moved in, and the house had been unoccupied for a year at that point [yes i had it inspected before closing on the property]
            but it’s a thousand gallon concrete tank and i live alone, no garbage disposal, very careful about what i put in my drains, etc.
            it doesn’t surprise me at all that your grandparents didn’t have any trouble for decades.
            even if i don’t get mine pumped for ten years, i’ve still been advised by people who’ve lived with septic most of their lives to get it inspected every three years or so.

      • RunawayJim says:

        Taxes don’t (or shouldn’t) increase as a result of municipal sewage systems. I pay a quarterly sewer bill that, I assume, covers my part of the system.

        • halfcuban says:

          That monthly fee often only pays for the current maintenance and running of of the system, not expansion, which often time has to be funded out of the general tax fund. People complain but the truth is either they get the pain in the form of slightly higher water bills or slapped in the once a year tax bill.

      • Gail says:

        We had a house that was also in an unincorporated neighborhood, surrounded by two towns, also in the midwest. In our case, we didn’t have to incorporate into either town to get sewer and water – the sanitation district is its own district.

        In order for our neighborhood to get sewer, the neighborhood had to vote. In the first vote (which covered everyone, and would have been cheaper per house), the vote lost. So, the sanitation district put together a portion of us that was closest to the existing sewer lines where we could get a majority. It cost more per person, but it was worth it.

        I believe the cost was about 13k per household, but that the payments were spread out over 10 years. That’s just to put the sewer in at the street. If you wanted to hook in, you had to pay a plumber to come and do it – but I don’t think we had to pay additional fees.

        A group of us in the neighborhood wanted sewer because, one, even though our septic systems were in good repair, having a septic field in the backyard meant that we couldn’t expand our little 1960s ranch houses. Adding on bathrooms could also be problematic – the previous owner had already expanded out the field once, just to deal with a four person household, one bathroom. Also, it depressed our home values, since most buyers would really rather not have septic.

        Plus, seriously, who wants to worry about waking up to shit in their backyard?

        So, in our case, there was a vote after several public meetings, many mailings and the majority won.

        However, in the case of going on Lake Michigan water, the neighborhood was forced to because most of the wells were polluted thanks to some ancient industry a few miles away. In that case, it was highly highly subsidized. Our house had already been converted to city water, since we were so close to the main lines, years ago, which we were eternally greatful for.

    • The Porkchop Express says:

      They appear to be brushing off any questions about the cost. Don’t forget that once tied in, you also pay to use the sewer. this will double (most of the time) your water bill.

      I would love to be on septic, sure that can go bad and you need to replace it but i’ll take the risk.

      • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

        this. the city charges $17 a month for sewer service where my sister is, a few miles down the road. but based on my septic tank size, me living alone and my water use, i’ve determined an annual cost to me [saving up for inspections and pumping] of about $50 a year for my septic tank.

    • common_sense84 says:

      “the higher resale value of your home.”

      Are you joking. Most people don’t sell their homes, they live in this.

      This is the last thing anyone should worry about.

  6. ThreeWulfMoon says:

    Ask for a copy and review your city’s municipal wastewater ordinances to see if it does indeed include a compulsory sewer tap on provision and whether it applies to existing structures. If it does, it should also state the required tap on fees in the ordinance. I believe if it is compulsory, then the fee must be predetermined and not just pulled out of the air for each project.

  7. amhorach says:

    Are you already part of the town or are you getting annexed?

    There are benefits to being on the sewer system in terms of overall property value, and if more of the people in your neighborhood want this than not, odds are good it’ll go through. As MaelstromRider commented, if you’re really serious about fighting this, you should hire a lawyer. Even if you can’t stop it, odds are good that with representation you’ll be able to work out a payment plan with the municipality and spread the cost of things out over time at a very low interest rate.

  8. Aurock says:

    If this post didn’t say it was in the northeast, I might have thought it was someone on my block. We’re looking around 60 houses in my case, but the total cost is right around 800k. Fortunately, my city got a grant to cover almost half, and is willing to pay about 100k of it out of city funds. Instead of charging hookup fees, they’re just straight up going to charge us for the installation of the sewer. The city is issuing a special assessment for the remaining 300k, which will be divided up between all of the property owners for a cost of about $5,000 per lot.

    Fortunately, the special assessment is set up so that it’s spread out over 10 years, with prime + 2 or 3 % interest rate. We can make payments on an annual basis, or even monthly if necessary. Still, we also have to contract with a private plumber to decomission our septic system and run pipe across the yard to connect to the new sewer. That’s expected to cost around 3-4k each, and I doubt the plumber will agree to payments over 10 years.

    Oh, and by law, we have 1 year to connect to the sewer after it’s been installed.

    I’m mostly looking forward to the sewer system, but many of my neighbors are upset about the cost, disruption of traffic, and a few properties that will be affected by road grade changes and such. Whether they like it or not, it’s going to happen next summer. It has to, or we lose the grant and later will have to pay the full bill ourselves.

  9. zentec says:

    My house has a clause in the deed that the homeowner will connect to muni wastewater treatment when available within one year. The OP’s house probably does not have such a clause, but I bet the health department will claim that the soils do not support septic systems in such density and the project will go forth.

    The township will put a special assessment on each of the 37 homes to pay for the project and that will likely *not* cover the tap fees. You will probably be able to opt-out by not connecting to the sewer, but you won’t get out of the special assessment. Assuming your township will get special low interest loans for these types of improvements (mine did for water), your property taxes will increase by about a grand for the next 20 years.

    You need to look at the tap-in fees versus a rebuild of the septic system. Older systems don’t last forever, and you don’t know what kind of maintenance the previous owners did to it, or what they flushed down the drain. Some of the worst things you can flush into a septic system seem rather benign such as effluent from the washing machine. A rebuild of the septage bed will easily be the same as the tap-in fee, and it won’t hurt your home value either.

    It isn’t fair that you have to bail out neighbors who fail to maintain their systems. But look at it this way, do you really want to have the smell and the health hazard of bubbling sewage in people’s back yards? It is providing benefit to you, even if you don’t immediately connect.

    It sucks getting this surprise though. My neighbors and I voted against muni water because we feared development. But it passed and we had the assessment even though we didn’t tap into it. Eventually though, my water treatment system needed $3,000 in repairs and the tap-in fee was $5,000. You can guess what happened next…

  10. distractedyogi says:

    Not sure what state you are in but in NJ there is state Board of Public Utilities. While they do not directly govern a local municipalities ability to make rates and charges (unless the utility is operated by a 3rd party private company) they should be better able to help you understand your rights and the state legislation governing utility connections and fees.

    In NJ for example the calculation of connection fee is defined by statute to have new users cover a portion of the previous capital invested in building out the treatment system. The idea is that older users of the system have been paying for the capital invested in the infrastructure (pipes, treatment tanks, etc…) all along and a new user should then pay some portion of that in order to connect and for the impact on the capacity of the system. Its meant to be fair to existing users, though it sucks if your just connecting.

    I don’t know what recourse you have against being connected. Obviously the town feels it needs the additional revenue. A law suit may create an injunction to give you more time. Your state Department of Environmental Protection may also needs to sign off on waste flow, local impact and impact on the capacity of the system.

    Hope thats not more confusing then helpful.

  11. RobHoliday says:

    I currently have a septic tank, and never had any problems. When I lived in a home that had sewer, I was being charged more for what was going out than what was coming in, which more than doubled my water/sewer bill (compared to just water bill). When I lived in a home with a pool (Florida), I had to keep filling it with water year-round, so that water wasn’t going down the sewer, but I was still being charged as if it was.

    A properly maintained septic system is MUCH cheaper that paying for sewer.

    • balthisar says:

      My sewer is based on my water consumption, too, and yup, it costs more than the water. Check to see if your water authority allows the use of “deduct meters.” I have one for my irrigation and outdoor water use. They work like this: your main water meter counts all of the water entering your house. The deduct meter counts all of the water going through a single pipe, which goes to your exterior water system, for things like lawn irrigation, pools, sump pump backup, washing your car or house, etc. The deducted amount of water isn’t charged against your sewer use.

  12. pz says:

    After growing up in a house where the septic tank would routinely, every few years or so, back up into the house (you can imagine what that was like), I don’t know why _anyone_ would WANT to keep a septic tank if they had the opportunity to use a municipal sewer system. :

    • thor79 says:

      It helps to properly maintain your septic system. Just leaving it sit and not expecting anything to go wrong is the worst way you can handle a septic system. Like any system in your home, it does require regular maintenance to keep performing in optimal condition.

    • sirwired says:

      A properly designed, maintained, and used septic system can last for decades without a single problem. There is nothing inherently wrong with the concept of septic systems used for sewage disposal. Where they get a bad rap is one that was poorly installed, under-sized, never pumped, and filled with “flushable” baby wipes. That’ll kill a system in just a few years.

      • TouchMyMonkey says:

        Don’t forget about chlorine bleach, and other stuff that people with septic systems have no business using.

    • The Porkchop Express says:

      I’ve had sewer back ups at my house, and in an aparmtent.

      At least with the septic, it isn’t some stranger’s shit. Not that mine is any better, but I would rather clena mine up than yours or that fat lady next door’s

    • TouchMyMonkey says:

      Because they’re teabaggers who think public sewers are socialist?

    • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

      I grew up with a tank and it seemed like we had to have it pumped all of the time or it would back up. It was awful.

  13. balthisar says:

    I’m certain that every municipality in every state of the country has its own way of doing things. Here’s an example for how it worked in my township in Michigan:

    Some neighbors wanted to re-pave our road (a residential, non-thoroughfare). The neighbors petitioned the township, which was obligated to investigate it and provide a price. The township then provided notice to everyone in the neighborhood for a meeting with an initial, non-binding yea/nay vote of the residents. Part of the meeting was a discussion by the township engineer about how it worked, pricing, warranty information, and then an open session for the residents. Due to various issues relating to drainage, the vote ended up being substantially in favor of killing the project. At that point, the matter was dead.

    Had we voted to proceed, the township would then have made arrangements for a binding vote.

    Funding would have been as such: cost of the entire project divided by the total frontage, paid proportionally by your particular frontage. You had the option to pay up-front, the balance would have been funded by a type of municipal bond, payable at a reasonable interest for 10 years. You would not have had the option to opt out.

    We all have sewers, but parts of the township still have septic tanks. From my understanding, homeowners would have had the same payment options for the installation of the new sewage lines, since the line cannot skip your house. Connecting your house to the line is not the township responsibility, and therefore “free” plus the cost of whatever skilled labor you need.

  14. MrsBug says:

    I had friends who lived out in a developing part of the country, close by town. The county said they were putting in water mains and everyone would be required to hook up. No ifs, ands or buts. Plus, there was a connection fee of something like $2,000.

  15. thor79 says:

    My father was in a similar situation. He lives on a street that used to be located in the countryside. It has since been enveloped by the city and is now surrounded by subdivisions. He was given the option to hook up to city sewer a couple of years ago, but due to the fees involved (about the same as the OP quoted, but with no requirement to help foot the bill for the entire project), decided not to. There should be no reason you are forced to pay fees for something you don’t want. You have to look into the laws in your area and see if there is something forcing you into this. Simply refuse to be hooked up and live with the septic system you have. There’s no reason to try to stop it unless they are forcing you into paying the fees. If that’s the case I would get a lawyer involved and either have the lawyer prevent them from assessing any fees and hooking you up to the system, or get the lawyer to shutdown the project.

    I would also suggest getting an expert to inspect your septic system to see if it is up to code. If you can get that it is in writing, that’s just one more piece of ammunition for keeping the status quo, at least on your property.

  16. leprechaunshawn says:

    I am going to assume this is a liberal city/village government.

    Despite what they try to tell you, they do not know what is best for you and your household. You’ve responsibly maintained your septic system and there is no valid reason why you should have to suffer financially because of those that haven’t. Contact your local representatives and remind them that they work for you and your neighbors.

    • JulesNoctambule says:

      Aww, aren’t you precious?

      • leprechaunshawn says:

        Are you people serious? This story just reeks of Liberalism.

        First, you’ve got a town board trying to “save” irresponsible citizens from themselves.

        Second, you’ve got the sanitary authority board promising an open discussion as to whether or not the project would proceed and then, without any input from the citizens that they work for, dictating that the project is moving forward. Sound familiar? It should! It’s just like promising to broadcast the Health Care Reform Bill negotiations on C-SPAN and then going forward with everything behind closed doors despite anywhere from (depending on who conducted the poll) many to a majority of Americans opposing it.

        And finally, you’ve got redistribution of wealth. Responsible people who have maintained their septic system are now going to be footing the bill for those who didn’t.

        • selkie says:

          No, it’s got just the liberals. A few years back, my slightly to the right of Attila the Hun county board of commissioners recently effectively forced everyone in an unincorportated area near me to tie into the county water system at a charge of something like $3K per parcel. To justify it, they said there were concerns about fire protection in the area, and that going on county water would provide fire hydrants with proper water pressure to make it far easier to put out any fires.

          Considering the area in question is two sides to a huge federal forest area that’s prone to spring wildfires, they’ve rather got a good point.

        • Sneeje says:

          I think you have liberals confused with non-libertarians. You’re pushing a libertarian view that may or may not be held by either liberals or conservatives.

        • ndonahue says:

          Call me a liberal, but I wish people had to pass a test demonstrating a basic understanding of political philosophy before they could throw around value-laden political terms. How about that, I’m a liberal in favor of a poll test…go figure.

          This isn’t a problem of people not maintaining their systems (classic us / them political positioning used effectively by all manner of people trying to sway consensus. This is a problem of slow over development, over time. In the 70 years since the neighborhood was built, buildings and populations expanded , and now the housing density, increased water use, and soil conditions no longer support septic systems.

          If we really want to get partisan political, this is great example of why governments need to regulate and enforce norms of behavior. “Liberals” will argue that everyone needs to acknowledge their responsibility to support a growing community even if the cost will hurt, while “Tea baggers” will stand knee deep in shit with the one hand blocking their nose screaming that the problem isn’t really that we’re all standing in shit, the problem is other people failed to maintain their septic system.

          Nobody’s perfect, but short-sighted, small-minded, and looking for someone else to blame has never been a recipe for a successful society.

          • leprechaunshawn says:

            Did you RTA? The OP said that “many of us maintain our systems and they work just fine”. Based on the facts provided by the OP, this is specifically a problem of people not maintaining their systems. I don’t remember reading anything about building and population expansion, housing density, increased water use or soil conditions.

        • Costner says:

          A similar situation happened to a development in the small town I grew up in. All homeowners had to hook up to city water and there was no debate. I don’t recall what the cost per home was, but it was in the thousands of dollars.

          Oh yea, this town is about as red and conservative as you can come. Their district hasn’t had a Democrat as an elected official since the 1960s. So no, it isn’t a liberal-only issue.

          Not everything in this country runs on 105 octane partisanship.

        • kaleberg says:

          And then they whine like stuck pigs when their house burns down or they get sick or their septic system fails, and they expect everyone else to bail them out for free. It’s like the grasshopper and the ant, but sometimes the ants get a bit tired of carrying the grasshopper.

    • AwesomeJerkface says:

      Really? You assume that a small, unincorporated township is liberal?

      You should travel between cities in the Northeast more because I can tell ya, they’re as conservative as any bible-thumping Southern stereotype.

      I can’t think of a single state or region in this country where the liberal epicenters aren’t larger cities in relation to unincorporated townships.

      But hey, partisan politics! Solves everything.

    • clownsRcreepy says:

      They see me trollin……

  17. StutiCebriones says:

    Is this what the libertarian movement (haw!) is coming to these days? “My government is going to SEIZE my POOP and CHARGE ME for it!”

    Move. Somewhere near you there’s a realtor who’d love to sell a house that isn’t foreclosed and a buyer who’d love to live in your neighborhood once it joins the 19th century.

    • jbandsma says:

      Hey, here in Charleston County we get charged for being rained on. They call it a storm water runoff assessment but they do nothing to provide storm drains or even keep the ones that exist cleaned out. So we get charged every year for having rain water hit our property.

    • evnmorlo says:

      Government (haw!) is out of control everywhere. Here the government is threatening residents’ lives over poop, counting on people such as yourself who value themselves less than sewage to obey.

  18. PhelpsG says:

    We had this happen about ten years ago. After 40 years on septic, our neighborhood finally got sewers. It was expensive (both an assessment and a tap-on fee), and came to about $18K per house in all, but the value of the house instantly went up by more than that, so we came out ahead. Nobody wants to buy a house in a neighborhood with failing septic tanks. Generally, the assessment is mandatory, and the tap-on is optional. So if your tank is OK, you can save some. My advice: bite the bullet and pay the assessment; generally you can stretch payment out over a number of years in most cities.

  19. esc27 says:

    I wonder, if the neighbors fail to take proper care of their vehicles, will the city buy a bus and force everyone in the neighborhood to pay for it? IF the majority of the septic systems in the neighborhood are failing due to age or design, then by all means this is a public issue and the city should step in (with appropriate taxes and such.) But, if this is just a case of negligence on the part of a few, then the city should fine them and only them to fix the problem (whether that means new septic systems or sewer lines…)

  20. MoreThanWYSIWYG says:

    Really? Having a municipal sewage system is WAY better for the environment and costs far far less in the long run. Do the math it costs around $150/yr to maintain a septic tank. To replace it, because it WILL go bad can cost around $20k.
    I live on Cape Cod, three years ago we switched to a municipal sewage system and it has been a lifesaver for residents here. It costs about $200/yr in taxes and feas, which really saves $$. No longer do I have to worry about roots damaging pipes and things like that.
    Also, with such a dense community (3800 people per sq mile) the septic tanks were destroying local ponds with nitrogen and phosor seaping out of the leach fields, that is no longer a problem.

    • Firethorn says:

      What area are you living in? I’m buying a house in an area that’s all septic systems. The house’s septic system failed the test. Curious as to the cost, I was quoted $6-7k for:
      Draining old tank, removing it, installing new steel tank and leech field, all necessary hookups.

      The lady who owns the house(and needed to fix it before I’d buy it) got it for $4k.

    • chadraytay says:

      20k? good lord. I’ve just been quoted a new septic and drain field for 4k. you need to move. badly.

  21. jeepguy57 says:

    I have a septic tank and wish my town would run sewer lines. I would gladly pay to connect to that, since I know my septic tank has a lifespan and will eventually need replacing. That will cost double the cost of a connecting to a sewer line, with the peace of mind of not worrying about when it will finally crap out (pun partially intended).

    Additionally, the sewer will help re-sale value of my home and allow me to call it at 4 bedroom home instead of 3. It has a 4th bedroom with a closet and a window but the septic tank is rated for a 3 bedroom home.

  22. Commenter24 says:

    This isn’t so much a “consumer” issue as it is a property law issue. The OP really needs to consult an attorney who is familiar with her municipality’s real property/land use laws. Her options aren’t going to be things like sending out an EECB or standing her ground and hoping the corporation backs down, but will likely involve legal action.

  23. ThatsWhatSheSaid says:

    why wouild you not want sewer? my parents house had septic my entire life, they finally got sewer a few years ago after a long fight and being one of the only streets left in town without a sewer system…yea its pricey but got forbid there is a issue with your septic tank it could cost as much as 6k just to have it fixed, replaced, whatever…and honestly its just easier, you dont have to worry about tank consumption etc, comming from a house of 5 the tank tends to fill up pretty damn quick, and to spend 400 or so to have it emptied lets say every other month adds upover time, so why not just pay the money and be done with it, they dont make you pay the 10 grand at once, my parents pay it off over time

    • The Porkchop Express says:

      you guys had a tank that did not in anyway fit your household. you should never have to empty your tank that often. At most every year, but it should go 5-10 years before you need to pump it if it is the right size and you don’t go fluching everything that will fit down the toilet (aside from the stuff that is supposed to go down there).

      • halfcuban says:

        More than likely they had a vault system without a leach field, which is usually found in houses with small lots that were far away from major cities or in towns too small to justify a water plant.

  24. jbandsma says:

    My sister went through this not too long ago. She tried but there was nothing she could do and yes, she got socked with a bill that was bigger than what she paid for her house. She’s still paying it off as well as the new monthly sewer fee.

    Sorry to give you such a downer

  25. Lord Kelvin says:

    This happens frequently in my area–a growing town, surrounded by older developments and exurban homes. $10k is the usual number for a sewer hookup around here. In many cases, the city will finance the $10k over 30 years.

    You outlined the problem perfectly–lots of people don’t maintain their septic systems because they are cheapskates.

    I don’t see any point in doing that, or in fighting the sewer plan.

    It cleans up your cheap neighbors’ pollution and stink. You no longer have to worry about paying to maintain or replace your septic tank. That replacement cost is unavoidable. If you don’t have to do it, the next purchaser of your home is likely to, so they’ll ding you on the price for it.

    So, why fight it?

  26. kobresia says:

    Okay, so a few years back I was an environmental health specialist for the county, it was my job to inspect individual sewage disposal systems (ISDS, the industry term) that were being constructed, as well as investigate water quality complaints. Before that, I had a small excavating business and installed & repaired ISDS.

    Some things to think about:
    –You *don’t* have to think as much about what goes down your drain if you’re on a municipal system. It’s still a good idea to be responsible, but they’re better-equipped to handle modern waste contaminants and prevent them from getting directly into surface or groundwater (especially pharmaceuticals and detergents with artificial estrogens).

    –While some ISDS that have been well-maintained might last upwards of 40 years, most don’t. Leach fields were typically constructed with clay tiles through the 1980s, the tanks typically lacked inlet & outlet tees and tank baffles can crumble and fail as well. Old ISDS are often woefully inadequate by modern standards.

    –When your ISDS fails (because it will eventually), due to your leach field being saturated or clogged from use or negligence (not pumping the tank out), you’ll be LUCKY if your cost to repair isn’t upwards of $20,000. Many jurisdictions around the country are requiring that all failing ISDS be upgraded to “advanced treatment” systems with expensive tank aerators before they’ll be recertified. No, you can’t just replace the system to the original permit specs, it has to be re-engineered and built to current regulations any time it is modified for ANY reason.

    –Where are you going to put a new leach field if your current one fails? Your lot may be too small to support a second one. It might be too small to have any field at all by current standards, and health departments are less and less willing to issue variances to allow you to have a sub-standard system when surface and ground water quality are at stake. Trust me, if you’re in that position, the only variance you’re likely to get is to install a vault (a plain old sealed tank)…which you’ll have to pay to have pumped every month or two.

    –If you remodel and add a bedroom or two, you’ll likely have to increase the capacity of your ISDS, which will possibly entail the same costs as if the system failed.

    –You might have no idea how bad your ISDS even is. Your county might– aerial IR surveys are good at showing whose stink may be an imminent public health concern.

    Municipal wastewater systems aren’t cheap to hook-up to, but they’re the best for the homeowner and the environment. Having that hookup adds value to your home, since all you have to do after that is pay the fees (which generally are less than the costs of properly maintaining an ISDS), and all you have to worry about maintaining is the pipe that goes under your yard to the street.

    Frankly, it’s a very selfish, short-sighted attitude to think that the environment and the needs of your neighborhood are not your concern at all. One of the communities I encountered during that stint as an inspector had the same battle going-on, and it had been happening for years. Several residents had failing systems or wanted to remodel each year, and due to high groundwater (which they’d been contaminating for years, several wells in the area had high coliform bacteria counts) and their lots being too small, they usually had to build new leach fields above-grade. That’s really, really expensive and ugly. But the neighbors who had new fields never wanted to get the municipal taps because they’d already paid a small fortune, nor did the folks who wanted to just continue on their merry, oblivious way because their toilets hadn’t backed-up, yet. So every year, the handful with failing systems would try to get municipal service to their area, and they’d fail because they couldn’t reach critical mass.

    My guess is that some neighbors are suffering from failing systems and the alternatives aren’t looking too good. Talk to them and figure out what they’ve encountered. Talk to the public health department and figure out what their concerns for your neighborhood are– they probably know quite well what challenges you’re facing.

    • tal says:

      Terri here. Thanks for the info, I do appreciate it. I am concerned as to the impact on the environment, but my feeling/opinion is why can’t the neighbors with the problems have a sand mound put in? Why shouldn’t the county go after the resident(s) with the questionable systems?

      I received our township’s ordinance/resolution as to the wastewater management yesterday in the mail and it sounded like the property owner is responsible for the cost of tapping in from the house to the system installed. My biggest issue, however, is that the township is basically saying we’ll be responsible for the infrastructure and that doesn’t seem right.

      • madog says:

        Keep inquiring as to the exact cost that you will incur for the process. Tell your neighbors to ask as well since no one seems to know right now.

        It is literally a shitty deal, but from the above post it does appear beneficial in the long run. Especially so if you plan on living there for the foreseeable future.

        If you plan on moving in the future, check to see what happens with the bill then as well (what if a house is vacant? Does the entire neighborhood pay more or does the new owner take the bill? Are you for some ridiculous reason still bound to the contract if you move?)

        Simple sounding questions, but I have no idea how something like this works.

      • kobresia says:

        Any ISDS that’s 30 years old should be considered questionable, no matter how well it has been maintained. There are always some suspended solids that make it out to the field and eventually clog it up, the old clay distribution boxes and tiles collapse, and you could lose the outlet tee in the tank and not even know until your leach field is ruined and the toilets back-up, or in a couple of years when the honeywagon man pays another visit to pump your tank (by which point the field could have been severely compromised). Also, more and more counties are trying to implement recertification timetables, which would strip old ISDS of “grandfathering” and force everyone to be in compliance with relatively current code, it’s really a matter of time. If I was in charge of this sort of thing, I’d most certainly un-grandfather every last one of the tiny old tile fields and steel septic tanks, I’ve seen far too many of them which were non-obvious pollution problems. It’s just really, really bad when the septic tank is so badly rusted-out that the toilets aren’t backing-up despite the leach field being plugged solid with solids.

        The costs of implementing the infrastructure can be complicated. One subdivision I had dealings with was not incorporated and didn’t want to be (because the city would pave their roads), but they sort-of wanted to have a municipal sewer hookup. In that case, since they weren’t in the city, they were responsible for footing the bill for the entire project as I recall, and they weren’t moving forward due to the expense (despite the situation of having a lot of ISDS problems).

        Generally speaking, though, the costs of installing the infrastructure is broken-up among the people it will serve in the form of those connect fees. That’s probably the most equitable way to handle the situation, since the costs are all on the folks who will benefit, and the other properties around already have had their connect fees paid in the past. I’m not saying that I agree with that, I personally think it’s better to phase-out ISDS where it’s feasible in the name of community improvement, but that seems to be how municipalities feel about it.

        If your quibble is more the cost of the project, rather than the project itself, and how it may not have been bid-out competitively, that’s a valid concern. It’s a sizable project, but there should be accountability rather than just the government forcing you to spend money without making sure it’s a good value. That’s a much different concern than just not wanting to be on the municipal sewer at all, and you might get farther, at least in terms of receiving documentation that justifies the fees.

        Regardless, it seems like these sorts of things are always critical-mass projects. They have to happen all-at-once, or they’re not going to happen at all.

  27. Tori says:

    My house was built in 1973 and has septic– which works great. In December of 2009, the city annexed my neighborhood (more taxes, worse police and fire protection. Yay me.) and will be extending “services” to me. I have been told my options are to connect to city sewer at the time they install it for a special discount price of $6000-$8000 depending on where they have to hook up, or a lein will be placed against my house stipulating that when I sell my house I have to pay “actual costs” for the city to come out and hook me up… which they say is currently about double the cost.

    • tal says:

      (OP here) Wow, so it sounds like you’re in the same boat, sorry.

      I spoke with the county health department and received our township’s sewerage ordinance and from what I’ve heard and read, we’re required to tap in. The county told me that the municipalities can set their own fees…bunch of bs.

      I’ve contacted my local legislators and they say they’re looking into it – I’d suggest that for you. If nothing else maybe they can point you in the direction of a state run low interest loan program. Our program, which I’ll have to further research, is through pennvest (I think).

  28. PencilSharp says:

    Man, I hate… HATE… HAAAATE septic systems. Let your Uncle Pen explain why he prays to the Good Lord above that his local “leaders” pull their collective head out of their collective tuchus and pass municipal sewage…

    I have city water with a septic system. No sewer available at all. The system is about 12 years old, and in “pristine” condition (according to the septic service guy who pumped the tank about two years ago). Still, we get nasty little whiffs of sewage smells on a nightly basis, probably from our next door neighbor’s less pristine system. Now, The Beloved Wife (TBW) is developing asthmatic symptoms from all this crap. So, reason #1 to hate septic systems: Your neighbors and their unmaintained systems.

    If you’ve been keeping track, you know your Uncle Pen lives in Kentucky. It gets kinda cold in the winter, as in cold enough to freeze the water in the pipes. So, leave a trickle running to keep the pipes flowing, right? Ahhh, but that does not work with a septic system. By the next morning, your field has flooded, along with every drain in the house. (And yes, that’s the voice of experience…) Reason #2: Frozen pipes.

    Finally, I’ve been wanting to plant a small backyard garden, to get some fresh veggies in our diet. TBW refuses to even hear of it; she does not want to eat her own waste. “But honey, that’s what fertilizer is… it gives you bigger yields…” You do not argue logic with TBW when her disgust glands have kicked in. Plus, of course, you can’t build anything bigger than a breadbox on a big-ass septic field. Reason #3: Loss of land use.

    So, hey. If you like your sewage costs to remain sunk, by all means, enjoy your septic system. As for me, make mine sewer line!

  29. talonscar says:

    “We live in the suburbs of [a city in the Northeast]”

    Are you in Massachusetts?
    Is your septic system Title 5 certified?

    If it is not, pay your $20,000 and be happy about it. I sold my grandparents’ house a couple years back and it needed a replacement septic system. Cost = $45,000.

    • tal says:

      Pittsburgh.

      Hadn’t heard of the “septic system Title 5″ certification. They did the dye test and our’s passed.

      Yikes – $45,000.

  30. ndonahue says:

    I sympathize, but your casting yourself as a victim make me less likely to want to be helpful to you. It is unlikely in the extreme that the reason your neighborhood needs sewer service has anything to do with some people (you) “taking care” of their septic system and other people (them) not taking care of their crap (I see what you did there…funny.)

    Briefly, there are two parts to a septic system: the tank and the drain field. The tank holds everything that goes down the drain, and the solids settle to the bottom as sludge which slowly breaks down into a liquid, and exits into the drain field where nature takes all those yummy nutrients out of the effluent and makes your grass nice and green while the liquids percolate down into sewer and eventually rejoin the water table…

    In the case of your neighborhood, if the problem were other bad people not caring for their septic systems, then the problem would be localized to individual homes and individual home owners would need to deal with pumpouts, maintenance, repair, etc.

    Much, much more likely, the problem is that your neighborhood has expanded over the years as people renovated those quaint 1940’s homes and added master bathrooms, disposals, and jacuzzi tubs. So now what happens is that liquid exits those tanks at a faster rate than the ground can leech (because of that wonderful granite bedrock that lies just under the surface of most of the Northeast), and the result is that all the nice green lawns in your neighborhood start to get spongy and soppy and begin to smell like (for lack of a better term) shit.

    So now you all need sewer to carry away all that waste water.

    If you want to blame someone for your need to enter the modern age of waste management, blame the people who renovated their homes over the last 70 years, not people who you presume don’t take care of their septic systems.

    Has your house been renovated?

    • tal says:

      Actually, we know for a fact that those “other people” haven’t taken care of their systems nor have they renovated. One of the residents was actually stupid enough to have relatives try to save them some money and pump their septic tank into the nearby street drain…thus a friendly call to the police by another neighbor was prompted.

      I know how a septic system works and yes, when the leach field goes there is nothing that can be done other than to start over with a sand mound. In our area, and for those residents, costs could range around $25,000.

      I’m all for helping out the neighbors, paying my fair share, but to be forced into something when we do not have a problem is where my issue lies.

  31. Brunette Bookworm says:

    I ahve to agree with the others here who asked why the OP doesn’t want to tie into the sewer system. Yes, it is a large up front fee but how much will it cost if she has to replace it in the future? How much does/will she spend in pumping fees? I think she and all the neighbors who don’t want to connect should analyze their long term cost of the spetic systems versus the sewers before they make a final decision whether they want to keep the septic system. Connecting to the sewers can take the burden of maintenance off the homeowner.

  32. 67alecto says:

    My mom went through this – the developer in her neighborhood didn’t leave enough room for the run tunnels for the septic tank (or rather, they had runs built to 1960s specs vs modern), so more than 75% of the homes had them backing up when it rained. She wanted the sewer badly, but a few neighbors who had no issues (i.e., their sewage ran down hill and out of their yard) fought like mad to prevent the fees.

    Once it became a health issue – sewage and waste the neighbors fighting it had no hope since the City will risk lawsuits over the cost vs lawsuits over health.

  33. TheWraithL98 says:

    my parents went through this exact same scenario 5 years ago. they were forced to pay a big bill, which came in the tax bill, so at least it was income tax deductible. plus the mouth of their driveway was messed up by the street being torn apart to dig the sewers, and their lawn was messed up by the dig of the pipe to the house. it turned into a big expense and waste of time.

    the real kick to the nuts though? people under a certain income range didn’t have to pay. my parents were a few grand above the range, and they got the full bill.

    my grandfather owned a house in a lake resort community, and he got hit with a giant bill for a dam repair on the lake years ago too.

    nothing you can do unfortunately, except be careful when you buy a house. if you live in a city with sewers nearby and you have a septic tank, there’s always a chance of this happening. the only other thing to try is to see if they’ll bill it out in installments. my grandfather’s dam repair could be added to real estate taxes in as much as 30 annual installments. however, if he chose to do that, it would have been a factor in selling the house.

  34. janeslogin says:

    I’ve been on the other end of this sort of conflict, in each case the city government. In both cases the elected officials allowed some accommodations but the property owners suffered greatly if they ever had to sell because hooking up after the fact was much more expensive. Another problem in maintaining you own was that septic tank services left the area so upkeep became more expensive.

  35. Skankingmike says:

    First, this is a municipality issue, no elected representative higher than the town is going to give a fuck or be able stop a local municipality from going forward, if you have a mayor he may care but I doubt it.

    What you need to do is get a lawyer who specializes in Land use and ask that person if there’s a case. If there is you will have to file immediately that is if it isn’t too late to contest it.

    If you waited too long then the worst they can do is do a special tax assessment on your property they cannot send you a bill for the connection fee all at once your tax bill will go up over the years.

    Again first thing to do is GET A LAWYER.

    why do you people constantly come ehre and ask stupid questions that a lawyer can answer usually in a free consultation session?

    Furthermore, What North East state?

  36. Mr. Bill says:

    I got sewers in my place six years ago. It was one of the best things that could have happen. Keeping up a septic system in not cheap, paying to get the tank empty every year, keeping up the drain field etc. Not doing it will ruin the system and your crap will go into the nearest river or lake.
    I live on a small lake and the change has been stunning.

  37. bishophicks says:

    Our town in the Northeast was putting in a sewer system when we bought our house. We were assessed $6K per hookup and we have 2 because we have a lot of frontage and if we wanted to subdivide our lot in the future, the ability to tie-in would make the lot more valuable.

    We were given the option of paying all at once or spread out over ten years at 5% interest. We chose to pay over ten years and the payment was part of our property taxes. The “sewer betterment” charge disappeared from our tax bill last year right on schedule.

    Actually hooking the house up to the sewer was a separate charge and we did that the year after we moved in while doing a major remodel. Can’t remember the cost, though. It was less than $3K, though. Those are 1999 dollars and our house is very close to the street, so not a lot of pipe or digging was required.

    In our state the septic system has to be certified before you can sell the house (unless it’s been certified within the past few years and the docs are on file with the town). Certification costs money. And if they find a problem, fixing it can cost tens of thousands of dollars and, depending on the fix required, can completely ugli-fy your property. I drive past a couple of homes on a regular basis that have yards where the groud has been built up about 3 feet. One is on what should be a $2 million dollar home. I wonder what sort of property value hit THAT caused.

  38. rdking says:

    about 10 years ago i had a house on a septic system when the city put sewers in. the cost was about 7k to tie into it,we had no choice. the city did have a plan where we paid the costs over 20 years with a low interest rate

  39. hakkoz says:

    My advice: If you ever want to sell your home, get the pipes.

    As for getting your elected officials to listen to you, I have no advice. My only solution is to not vote for them ever, ever again. In fact, I’m thinking about helping the campaign of whoever is running against whoever will run against my district supervisor since my county has pushed through a rezoning to allow a wartime museum with reenactments (yes, with tanks and mortars) to be built 50 feet from my house.

  40. RogueWarrior65 says:

    In rural areas of Arizona, there is a big stink over annexation into incorporated towns of homes that are just outside the city limits. The city wants to annex a road with about a dozen homes and stick the residents there with all the costs for city water and sewer. IMHO, that’s a double screw job. They force you to be on the city services, make you pay for it every month whether you use it or not, jack the rates up every year and then stick you for $20,000 to connect to those mandatory services. Understandably those residents told the city to stuff it. Get a lawyer. Given the popularity of states suing the Feds for forcing people to buy health insurance or pay a fine, you may get some traction on this.

    Arizonans are constantly worried about “safe yield” which means you don’t pull more water out of the aquifers that gets replenished by rain or recycling waste water back into the aquifer. Since you’re in the Northeast, you don’t have that problem.

  41. RogueWarrior65 says:

    There is also another nefarious reason for forcing you to be on city services: Power. Once you’re hooked up, you have no choice. You must accept rate increases. Always. Those rate increases mostly go to paying somebody else’s salary and/or hiring new government workers and paying their pensions. It’s not as though you’re going to get better tasting water or cleaner water as a result of a rate increase.

  42. baristabrawl says:

    Most of the residents are probably not having their septic tanks pumped and it’s causing problems. Maybe there is a way to enter into a contract with a local vendor who pumps poo and get the city to agree that if the septic tanks are being maintained they won’t put in a sewer line? Just a thought.

  43. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    The downside is that your property will be worth less than your neighbor’s when it’s time to sell. I know a couple that declined and wound up being the only house in the neighborhood that wasn’t on town sewer. When they wanted to sell (divorce) it was hard finding a buyer (or even lookers) and they had to sell well below market to offset the costs to the new owner.

  44. elliemae says:

    They are probably talking about creating a special service district, where they can charge homeowners for improvements. They created one at my old house – if we wanted to tie into the sewer the homeowners could make monthly payments. If we didn’t, they would get thir money when the house sold because a lien was placed on the property by the city claiming eminent domain (city was there before the house was). The total cost of the improvements they made, including pavements/sewer/street lights/sidewalks was close to $20,000. It sucked.

  45. SpyGuy says:

    I cannot be sure, but I would look into any clause in the law for your particular Municipality. When my Father wanted to do something that the law now says he cannot do, he claimed a start to it prior to a change in the law so a Grandfather type clause helped to win the argument. If you want to review the Municipalities laws all you need to do is ask. They are required to give you the information you ask for. If when looking over the law you do not understand something, the internet is a great place to translate legal mumbo-jumbo. Good luck and here’s to your clean win. ;-)