Wednesday night, the continued its push to sunset its responsibility for the maintenance of 209 town grinder pumps, agreeing they should have something finalized at their next meeting to go in front of the Representative Town Meeting with.
“You’ll have to have a good case for the RTM to do this,” said Board of Finance member J.W. “Bill” Sheehan, who serves as the board’s liaison to the Utility Commission. “You’re going to have an uphill battle getting this approved.”
The Utility Commission is proposing to sunset the maintenance of all 209 grinder pumps it is currently responsible for. This will mean homeowners, if they have one, will be responsible for the maintenance of their own pump, which can costs thousands of dollars to fix or $3,500 to replace.
“It is a heavy burden for us to take care of all the pumps,” Utility Commission Chief Engineer Neftali Soto said. “This is a move to keep our rates down in the future.”
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Grinder pumps pump sewage uphill. When the Utility Commission installed sewer lines throughout the town, it installed grinder pumps to homes with sewer connections below the line, therefore requiring a pump.
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The Utility Commission originally said it would be responsible for the maintenance of these pumps. In 2004, the RTM on behalf of the commission changed the rule so if the deed to a house was changed, i.e. the house was sold, the commission would no longer maintain the pump. Additionally, all new grinder pumps the town installed would be the responsibility of the homeowner.
Since that date, the name on the deed changed on 85 homes with grinder pumps, meaning the Utility Commission has turned over the maintenance of 85 grinder pumps to 85 homeowners. Still, it has to maintain the remaining 209 pumps, which is a lot of work and money, Soto said.
The plan is to sunset the responsibility of the grinder pumps on January 1, 2014, meaning the 209 homeowners with town-maintained grinder pumps will then have to maintain the pumps themselves. That sunset requires a change in ordinance, meaning it requires the 22-person RTM to approve it.
Sheehan said residents will argue that they were promised the town would maintain the pumps, and now the Utility Commission is reneging on that promise. But in reality the people with grinder pumps got a great deal from the town, and if it doesn’t happen sewer rates will go up and everybody will pay more, Utility Commission member Ken Kirkman said.
“The last pump we installed that we were responsible for was in 2003,” Kirkman said. “So that means that we maintained people’s pumps for 10 years, at least. That’s a pretty good deal.”
Soto said few – if any - other towns maintain grinder pumps. The town is also currently responsible for energizing the pumps, a difficult task during Tropical Storm Irene when the power was out for over a week, Soto said.
The cost of maintaining grinder pumps can vary depending on the use, but installing a new one costs about $3,500, he said. They also need electricity to work, so homeowners need to have a generator, Soto said.
The commission agreed they would likely finalize their proposal next meeting and then forward it to the RTM.