Thursday, April 23, 2009

I just don't get it.

I currently live in the small town I grew up in. It's small probably only about 2000 people (and that's the area not the city proper), but nice. We have one grocery store, a couple little restaurants, and a smattering of other small businesses. The majority of the town is made up of older homes. It's a great mix of retirees, young families and middle-class empty nesters. Many of the towns in our area are completely dependent on one industry or another. Most of which have, or are going belly up. We are luckier then most as we are fairly close to several larger towns, all of which still have a decent amount of jobs and economic stability. That being said, our little piece of heaven is still having issues. Homes sit on the market, people are being laid off, businesses are having to cut back and times are getting tough.

Two years ago or so, our city council decided we needed a sewer. Now, this idea has been batted around for YEARS. Literally as long as I can remember. There hasn't been a need for one. We have no 'big business' or fast food places that would require one. And the city limits haven't changed in years (probably more then a decade). Regardless, the almighty City Council decided that we silly citizens need a sewer system.

I'm unsure of the politics behind this, I'll be honest. I don't understand how the city council (4 people) can just decide to do a project so large as this. I figure if the whole city votes on a school levy, why don't they vote on town improvement issues? Also, instead of a levy type system where the cost is added over time, it was decreed (I can't with good conscience say decided) that each property would have a one time hefty 'deposit' to offset the cost to the city.

Fast forward a year. Construction begins, and slowly but surely every road in town in torn to pieces, patched badly and start growing potholes like weeds. Everyone is annoyed, but it's not like you can boycott a construction zone when it's the only route home.

Fast forward another year. Construction is almost complete. The roads are still a wreck, and aren't being fixed because every penny the town has is going into the sewer. I live in a duplex, which is owned by my friend's grandfather. He warned me when I moved in last fall that he was unsure about how they were going to do the sewer system for the house, and that he might have to raise the rent a little. He explained that even though the duplex was on one septic tank currently, the city was possibly going to charge him twice for the property since it's technically two residences.

Last week, I got a letter in the mail from my landlord saying he was indeed raising the rent. It only went up a small portion ($25) and since I was forewarned I wasn't upset. May and David (my neighbors and the owners grandson and wife respectively) also got the same notice, and were apparently a bit surprised. Last night, BD (my friend and David's brother) had come over for dinner, and David and May ended up joining us. The discussion turned to the rent raise, and subsequently to the town sewer project. May apparently hadn't understood fully that the rent was going up because of the sewer deposits. BD had recently spoken to his grandpa (who owns the property) and so he knew the amount his grandfather would have to be paying. $4800. That staggered me. The city did charge him for two residences, so their grandpa is paying a combined amount of $9600. When I heard that you can bet I was thanking my lucky starts my rent had only gone up $25.

BD mentioned it must be very hard on the people, seeing as most people don't exactly have the kind of money hiding under the couch cushions. May, who works in the mortgage portion of a large bank, mentioned that the week previously a co-worker had mentioned an elderly couple from the community who had gone to the bank for a reverse mortgage on their home. They purchased it in the 50's, and had it paid off in the 70's. Because they were on a fixed income and couldn't afford the deposit, they were being forced to borrow on their home to pay the city.

We all wondered what would happen should someone be unable to pay the deposit, and if they had a choice in hooking up to the system, but none of us knew. This morning as I made my rounds through town on my way to work (Grocer, coffee shop, gas station) I made it a point to ask what people thought. I was shocked by the responses. Everyone I encountered was going to have to do something drastic to get this money by June 1st. Most were re-financing their homes, a few were taking from 401K or stocks. No one had the money. No one. There is no way to 'opt out' of the new system, and if you don't pay, well... the city puts a lien of your house. Simple enough for the city I suppose.

I really can't get my mind around this. The city has functioned just fine without a sewer system so far. Instead they are doing it regardless of need or cost to people who can't afford it, many of whom are already struggling, on unemployment or a fixed income. If it made any sense to add this, I would probably be in favor of it. It isn't bringing a single thing to our community. Na-da.

I just don't get it.

6 comments:

  1. Yeah the whole thing is completely fucked. Nobody wants it except maybe some assholes who think it will create growth and raise property values. The way they are doing it is also a shitty and very expensive option.

    Best I can say is to live far enough away from a town that you will never get "incorporated" and have to deal with shit like this.

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  2. It's too bad that the home owners were not given an option to vote on this before it was approved.

    I hope others run for town council and have a little common sense ( something that seems to be lacking a lot in this world right now)

    It almost seems that governments at all levels are taking their turns at kicking people while their are down.

    John

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  3. Check with the city council. They may have had to install the sewer, or lose $30,000 in federal funds for the school or fire department or something.

    If you worry about the cost of the sewer, I suggest looking at the school budget - and break out how much the schools spent to meet federal "guidelines" required to get federal dollars. I suspect in many cases the school ends up costing more than the revenue covers.

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  4. Brad K., I actually know for a fact that this wasn't federally mandated (or at least no one said, you do this or we take your money away) and the city counsel in fact, created an ordinance to allow it to approve the project without voters' approval.

    I have been researching this now for a couple days, and I've spoken to people in charge of the "sewer" workshops, local buisness owners, I even tried the mayor's office.

    Of all the 'officials' I spoke with, no one could answer a question so simple as "How much will the water bills be raised?". When I asked for copies of the budget, I got excuses and muttering, and once I got hung up on.

    According the the USDA, the project is supposed to run about $17 Million. They are getting roughly $9 million in grants, which leaves $8 million to be shouldered by about 700 households.

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  5. I see Maggy running for City Council and I can see her platform now....

    Things can be undone - it may not be pleasant, but there is absolutely no reason for someone to have to borrow for this kind of crap.

    Run - kick them out and fix this mess - it may take years and maybe a penny sales tax kind of thing - but I would not turn that thing on until its paid for and I would give people the option of opting out.

    Bless your heart - your in the right and you are mad - that is 1/2 the battle - now go kick ass ;)

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  6. sounds like the company doing the work gives kickbacks--hate to be a conspiracy theorist--but experience has taught me.....

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