Green Park board nixes placing sewer lateral repair program before voters

By Robert Chalupny

A motion to place a residential sewer lateral repair program before Green Park voters recently was defeated by the Board of Aldermen.

Ward 1 Alderman Judy Betlach made the motion to place the residential sewer lateral repair program on the February ballot.

Aldermen voted 3-2 to defeat the motion, which was opposed by board President Fred Baras of Ward 3, Ward 2 Alderman Chuck Deters and Ward 3 Alderman Mark Hayden.

Besides Betlach, Ward 1 Alderman Judy DeWitt, who seconded the motion, voted in favor of it. Ward 2 Alderman Tony Konopka was absent.

Betlach’s motion, made at the Oct. 20 Board of Aldermen meeting, is not the first time a proposal to place a residential sewer lateral repair program before voters has been discussed by aldermen.

In fact, Green Park voters defeated such a proposal in April 1998.

That proposal to assess a fee of up to $28 on residential property containing six or fewer dwelling units for a sewer lateral repair program received 349 “yes” votes and 481 “no” votes.

In her motion to place a residential sewer lateral repair program before voters, Betlach specified a number of conditions that she believed should occur before placing the measure on the ballot. If the motion was approved, she stipulated the following must be met before city implementation:

• That the lateral sewer information package be included in the next city newsletter.

• That a town-hall session be scheduled to provide information to residents.

• That the annual assessment fee be established at $50 to respond to St. Louis County projections of 14 sewer lateral repairs per year.

• That the program be administered by St. Louis County.

• That the city is able to obtain a memo of agreement from St. Louis County officials affirming that they will not withdraw administrative support from this program.

• That a 24-month collection period precedes qualification for any cost payouts.

• That should there be insufficient funds in the city’s lateral sewer fund, residents will not be reimbursed for any repair costs.

• That the program would not apply to business or septic tank users.

• That collected funds be used only for lateral sewer repairs and St. Louis County administrative fees.

Betlach told board members that it was important to take care of these issues before going to the voters and they should commit to doing so.

“I’m trying to get a decision out of the board. We can put it on the ballot, but before we put it on the ballot, we might want to make sure all these conditions are met and once they are met, yes, it will go on the ballot,” Betlach said.

Betlach said voters should be able to make the decision about whether the city should participate in the program.

“The primary complaint that I am getting from my constituents is they have not been allowed to voice their opinion on this,” Betlach said.

DeWitt said that she also has received comments from Ward 1 residents who would like to be able to vote on this issue.

“I have 30 people that gave me a written request that want this on the ballot,” Dewitt said. Let them decide.”

Baras said he believed the issue should be reviewed further before even considering placing it before voters.

“What if St. Louis County pulls out? What if they raise the rates? We need something black on white. I mean this looks great, but what are you going to do when they change?” Baras said.

“We have nothing on paper. Who’s going to take it over? Are we going to bring in our own plumbers and our own inspectors? Are we going bring everybody else in? Are we going to bring people in to work in the office? I mean this is something we have to look at before we can go ahead,” Baras continued.

Dewitt interjected, “That’s what the voters are going to look at.”

Baras said voters would not decide how to implement the program. City officials must decide that issue first, he said.

“The voters aren’t going to decide who’s going to implement this program. The voters aren’t going to decide what inspectors are we going to get,” the board president said. “The voters aren’t going to decide what plumbers we are going to get if St. Louis County pulls out. This is something we have to look at before we even throw it out to the voters and throw it out and have a town hall meeting.

“We haven’t got anything that we can basically take this over when St. Louis County says we don’t want to implement this program in the city anymore,” Baras concluded.

Voters in unincorporated St. Louis County approved a sewer lateral insurance program in April 1999. St. Louis County currently is serving unincorporated areas of the county as well as administering the program for two muni-cipalities that have elected to implement the program.

Under the county’s sewer lateral program, property owners in unincorporated St. Louis County pay $28 per year to insure coverage for the possible repair of lateral lines from their house to sewer mains.

Homeowners are responsible for hiring a licensed drainlayer to clear blockage and assess if the sewer has a breakage.

If so, the homeowner applies to the St. Louis County Department of Public Works who accepts bids for the work from a pool of participating drainlayers. The $28 cost is included in real estate property tax bills.

Though Green Park voters defeated a residential sewer lateral repair program in April 1998, the issue periodically has resurfaced at Board of Aldermen meetings.

In 1999, aldermen conducted extensive discussions about whether to place the issue before city voters for a second time.

In July 1999, an effort by former Ward 1 Alderman Bill Gerdemann and former Ward 3 Alderman Ron Moss to place the issue on the November 1999 ballot was tabled.

A motion to table a discussion of an ordinance to place the issue on the ballot deadlocked with a 3-3 vote. Then-Mayor Richard George cast the deciding vote in favor of tabling the ordinance.

Aldermen further discussed the issue in October 1999, but decided not to pursue placing a residential sewer lateral repair program before voters at that time.