URBANA — While residents of one neighborhood plead with city officials for assistance, council members this week will have a chance to revise their policy on reimbursing homeowners for sanitary sewer repairs.
City council members are scheduled to meet as the committee of the whole on Monday at 7 p.m. in the Urbana City Building, 400 S. Vine St. Their regular meeting will be preceded by a 6 p.m. closed session.
Residents of the Ellis subdivision in northwest Urbana say they are having particularly expensive problems with old tree roots gouging their sanitary sewer laterals. The damage can cause blockages — and in some cases some nasty messes and odors — as sewage in those laterals tries to flow down into the collector sewers that run alongside city streets.
But broken sewer laterals can cost thousands of dollars to fix. And since sanitary sewers typically run on one side of the road or the other, it can be even more expensive if you live on the wrong side of the street.
"It is very complicated, and we are having problems time after time with this situation," resident Etha Reid told the city council earlier this month.
Homeowners are responsible for the cost and maintenance of the sewers that run underneath their property and into their homes. But, if a resident lives on the opposite side of the street from the public sewer, the homeowner is responsible for the cost of tearing up and replacing the street, too.
For years, the city has offered to reimburse those unlucky residents for a part of the "extraordinary cost" of reaching a sewer on the opposite side of the street, said Public Works Director Bill Gray. The city will pay 50 percent of what it costs to tear up and replace the street, up to a maximum $3,000.
Officials budget $25,000 annually for those reimbursements, Gray said, and usually pay about eight to 12 homeowners per year.
Residents of the Ellis subdivision have been pleading with city officials for assistance for weeks. They feel the sewer should run under the middle of the street so the cost is equitable for homeowners on both sides of the street.
Gray said that would create access and cost issues.
"We really do want a sanitary sewer on one side of the street or the other for a variety of reasons," he said.
City officials plan to explain the sewer situation in the Ellis subdivision during Monday night's meeting. City council members will have a chance to revise their policy — possibly raising the amount that homeowners may be reimbursed for sewer repairs.
That would provide some relief for residents, Gray said, but may pose some drawbacks, too.
"If we go to a higher amount, say 100 percent, that might not keep the pencil as sharp for contractors to provide bids," Gray said.
But Reid and other residents have said it's a troubling and pricey problem for them.
"I think that's an unfair cost to the residents when we're taxpayers," she said.