SIDNEY — Owners of properties covered in the first year of the city of Sidney’s program to reduce stormwater flows into the sanitary sewer system will have a little longer to comply with inspection requirements, City Council decided Monday night.
The city is in the second year of the inflow and infiltration (I&I) program, but there still are 28 properties from the first year that haven’t met requirements.
Council directed the city staff Monday night to send certified letters to the owners of these properties advising them they have until Sept. 1 to comply. After this “drop-dead date,” as Mayor Mike Barhorst called it, the city will pay for inspections if owners can’t afford to, but the owners would have to reimburse the city over a period of time. The city will file a civil lawsuit against owners who can afford inspections but have failed to do so by the deadline.
“It is my understanding that council will consider passage of a supplemental appropriation to fund a reimbursable program to assist those owners who are financially unable to pay for their inspections, but those who can pay will be named in a civil lawsuit to enforce compliance,” city Law Director Jeff Amick said in an email in response to a request by the Sidney Daily News for clarification of the matter. “Before any of this is undertaken, staff has been directed to contact those who have not yet complied to give them until Sept. 1 to obtain the inspection or to become involved in the aforementioned reimbursable program should they qualify under the application parameters established by the city.”
The I&I program, conducted by the city’s new I&I Division, requires an inspection within one year of notification by the city to verify that no I&I is contributing to the public sewer system. The program was established in connection with the city’s major project to improve the wastewater treatment plant. The improvements are mandated by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. The city was able to reduce the cost of the plant improvements by establishing the I&I program.
Gary Clough, assistant city manager/public works director, reviewed the options for dealing with the issue that he had first presented at council’s work session July 6: initiating criminal complaints in Sidney Municipal Court similar to the way unpaid taxes and code violations are handled; initiating civil actions in Shelby County Common Pleas Court, seeking an order requiring the affected homeowners to perform the inspections; the city performs the inspections and assesses the cost to the affected property for collection on the owners’ real estate tax bills; and creating a local funding mechanism to provide cash assistance to those who are financially unable to pay the cost of the inspection.
Asked by Councilman Steve Wagner what option he preferred, Amick said for property owners who are unable to pay, a court judgment would not work. Amick said for those owners, “invariably the theme is, “I don’t have the money.’ “
Clough estimated an inspection costs between $250 and $600, depending on the conditions on the property. Amick said if the city initially paid for an inspection, the owner would be required to repay the city.
Barhorst said he was puzzled how people could afford to own a property, but not have $250 for an inspection. He wondered how they paid for other needed repairs.
During the discussion, staff and council acknowledged that the city’s I&I program, as it relates to reducing the cost of the sewage plant project, is a new concept in Ohio. “It’s either do this or build a $75 million sewer plant,” Barhorst said, which would mean much higher sewer rates for residents. The city’s most recent cost estimate for the project is $20 million.
Of the 28 properties not in compliance, Clough said 16 are owned properties, 11 are rentals, and one is a commercial property, Walgreens. A total of 375 properties were in the first year of the program. The city plans to target 400-500 properties each year.
The writer may be contacted at 937-538-4823 and on Twitter @MikeSeffrinSDN.