URBANA — City council members on Monday supported a policy change that they say would make more money available to residents looking to pay for costly sanitary sewer repairs while officials seek a solution to a broader problem citywide.
City officials have heard about different kinds of sanitary sewer issues since residents of the Ellis subdivision northwest of King Park became more vocal about it — sewers run on different sides of the street or not along a street at all, the sewers are made of different kinds of materials, and the residents responsible for the repairs are of different income levels.
All those issues make for different problems when residents' sanitary sewer laterals are clogged or collapsed, and while city officials search for a more comprehensive solution, they supported a policy change that they say will provide some relief in the intervening weeks.
Property owners are responsible for the maintenance of the sewer lateral that runs from their homes to a collector. Since 2008, the city has reimbursed property owners for a portion of sewer repairs when those repairs require that workers tear up a city street, alley or sidewalk. The city repays the property owner 50 percent of the cost to repair the street, up to a maximum of $3,000.
Mayor Laurel Prussing has proposed upping that cost-sharing percentage from 50 percent to 75 percent and raising the maximum to $4,500, and the city council on Monday supported that plan. They will have to finalize their approval at later city council meeting.
Alderwoman Diane Marlin, D-Ward 7, said that, based on previous numbers, five to 10 property owners might want to take advantage of that program this year.
"I think there's no reason why we shouldn't make this money available to people," Marlin said.
Rex Bradfield, Prussing's Republican challenger in the April 9 election, said the policy change council members supported on Monday does not fix the problem, and he urged them again to consider his plan.
Bradfield's suggestion was that the city should pay for sewer lateral repairs up to the property line, and the property owner should pay for repairs to the portion of the sewer that runs under their property. He said it is a simple but comprehensive fix to a citywide problem.
The Rev. Evelyn Underwood, a resident of the Ellis subdivision, said the action city council members took on Monday does not go far enough. Take, for example, sewer repairs that do not involve tearing up city streets, she said. Those projects can be extremely expensive, too, but those fixes would not be eligible for city assistance under the policy.
"We're not interested in this stop-gap measure," she said.