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City Sewer Service Proves Too Costly

POSTED February 22, 2011 10:50 p.m.

A little known city provided service is costing the City of Oakdale close to $3000 every time it is performed.

The Oakdale Department of Public Works, when performing a lateral line sewer repair for a private residence, can only charge the homeowner $1335 by city statute. The repair costs the city far above the billed price and if performed by a private contractor normally costs in excess of $4000. Many times because of other pending municipal projects the city has to defer and contract the repair with a private vendor. The city ends up paying the difference.

“Word is out that the city provides this discounted service,” said Public Works Director Joe Leach, who said the city has already performed or contracted three lateral sewer line repairs this year alone.

The connection from the underground main sewer line to the house, known as the “lateral line” is usually the homeowner’s responsibility for repair. A city ordinance, however, dictates that the repair goes through the public works department for a fee of only $1335.

“State law requires there to be a rationale for the price a municipality can charge for extended services,” said Leach. “The last study was years ago so the price has remained fixed.”

Leach believes the obscure figure of $1335 was developed from a study of the total cost of how many units were repaired during the year of the study, then divided by the actual number of repairs done.

“Needless to say in today’s dollars, you can’t do much work for that cost,” Leach said. “It may cover the cost for materials, but doesn’t cover the cost of labor or other incidentals.”

Leach explained that services such as traffic control and shoring if the repair is extended to an extra depth were not included in the original study.

Leach believes the city should be able to recover all related costs if it is going to perform any extended services.

It is the homeowner’s responsibility for any underground repairs on the backside of the water meter but if notified, the public works department assumes the repair at the fixed price.

When city councilman Michael Brennan learned of the discrepancy during Leach’s council meeting presentation, Brennan stated the city should get out of the ‘home repair business’ and the homeowner should pay their own repair costs. He suggested the public works department may provide a list of preferred contractors and the city responsibility would only then be the final inspection.

“We won’t have to keep revising ordinances or fees,” councilman Tom Dunlop added, agreeing with Brennan’s view.

Leach said the public works department has now been directed to come up with an alternative so the city will no longer be responsible. The new plan will include not only underground repairs, but also sidewalk fixing and other water services that are generally the obligation of the homeowner.

Leach recommended that homeowners look into home warranty and home protection policies that would cover costs of any shortfall or repair. A home warranty is a service contract that covers the repair or replacement of many of the most frequently occurring breakdowns of house system components and usually includes the home’s large appliances.

“There are plenty of local contractors out there that can handle the repairs,” said Leach.

“This way we can focus on our public projects.”

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