The Newton City Council granted its consensus to move forward with suggestions for changes to the city's mandatory Inflow/Infiltration Program after a year's experience showed that what's written on paper doesn't necessarily work in practice.
Public Works Director Keith Laube outlined some of the problems that have been found as the city continues to work on its city-wide program to determine if there are unlawful connections from properties to the city's sanitary sewer system.
Laube noted that residents in the first established district in the Callison Park area are finding it difficult to get the requisite three quotes for city payment of corrective work. He suggested the ordinance be changed to require just two quotes, a move the council agreed to consider.
In addition, he said the dry weather conditions have made it difficult for the city to determine if corrective actions are necessary on some properties in the first district. And with the deadline to make corrective action coming next month, a change in the timeframe requirements is needed so these property owners - through no fault of their own - are not faced with the noncompliance fees contained in the ordinance.
The extensions would also apply in the rare cases of a property owner's death during the process or the foreclosure and resale of a property to a new owner.
Laube suggested that the deadlines be set six months after the date of determination of the necessary corrective actions for all current and future districts, an idea the council agreed to consider in a change to the ordinance.
The Public Works director also suggested that in the future - and for the current district 2 in northeast Newton - the defined districts be treated as a single project. The city would identify the scope of the corrective work to be done and then put it out for bid to be awarded to one contractor.
The city would let the property owner know who the designated contractor is and the unit price of drain tile and sump pumps. If the property owner chose another contractor to do the work, any costs higher than the cost included in the bid would be paid by the property owner.
"We knew there were going to be some tweaks necessary," said council member Dennis Julius in supporting the proposed changes.
Julius also asked that staff provide the council with financial information on the city costs of the program to date relative to the sewer rate hikes used to finance the program.
The program, as well as other sewer system capital projects, are being financed by two recent double-digit sewer rate increases - 21 percent in October 2011 and 15 percent in May. The city is budgeting $400,000 a year over the 10 to 12 year life of the program to implement the drainage disconnections where the city will pay up to $3,000 of the cost.
Julius, though supportive of the capital projects and efforts to stem inflows and infiltrations into the sanitary system, did not support the large sewer rate hikes to all city residents when city staff's estimates were that 60 percent of the properties in Newton did not have the illegal connections.
Initial findings by the city show the number of illicit connections well below the estimates.