A barrage of letters to annexed Mount Airy homeowners telling them they are violation of an ordinance requiring hookups to municipal water and sewer services has brought “a big pickup” in signups, a city official said.
However, that mandate hasn’t exactly been greeted with open arms by recipients of the letters sent during the summer.
“I was not too happy,” Sylvia Flanagan Cail of Burgundy Lane said of getting her letter dated July 23 — via certified mail. “I felt like I was being forced to do something I didn’t want to do.”
As a result, Cail, whose home is in a northern section of the city that was annexed in 2008, said she thought she had no choice but to connect, which proved to be a costly proposition.
“It run me over $1,000 to do it,” Cail said of the water service connection, a expense that would have been $600 to $800 more if a neighbor hadn’t done the work. The largest part of the expense was an $800 fee for her residential service tap.
260 Letters Mailed
The certified letters were sent to residents of neighborhoods annexed in recent years, but who have not connected to the water and sewer service as the city ordinance requires.
About 260 such letters were mailed, according to Mitch Williams, an engineer in Mount Airy’s public services division. In addition to it, the city finance department, which handles water billing and collections, is involved in the process.
However, it was set into motion months before by the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners during a planning retreat in February when city government goals were set.
Commissioner Steve Yokeley broached the subject by asking for a review of policies and procedures for water hookups by city residents — namely those who still weren’t connected years after being annexed.
“I don’t think it is fair for those who have already hooked up to city water for there to be people who haven’t hooked up,” Yokeley said at the retreat.
That issue never appeared on the agenda for any subsequent meeting of the board, yet the letters were drafted and sent to affected residents.
Cail, the Burgundy Road resident, said the postal carrier advised when delivering her certified letter that about 60 other homeowners also were getting one that day from the same carrier.
John Overton, city finance director, said the letters have produced results, although he lacked a specific figure for the number of residents who have complied with the strongly worded directive.
“We’ve seen a lot of traffic,” Overton said of recent activity in the water department. “Certainly we have seen a big pickup in people coming in to get signed up.”
Legal Action Threatened
The letter informed affected residents that according to city records, their properties had not been connected to public water and/or sewer service. It added that the deadline for such connections had passed, except for those annexed in 2008 — where a sewer connection deadline looms on Dec. 1.
“Because your property is not connected, you are in violation of City Ordinance Section 8-7,” it states.
It then proceeds to inform them that water connections are mandatory, including the standard service connection fee of $800, along with a one-time application fee of $40 per connection. Residents also were told that they were responsible for related plumbing costs, with Cail adding that this included pipes.
Homeowners were told that they had until Sept. 30 to connect to the water system.
The sewer-connection policy residents also must comply with includes a $750 fee for a standard residential tap.
Homeowners have been given an option of delaying that requirement and entering into a contract effectively allowing them to postpone the hookup. But they must agree to pay a monthly sewer charge based on metered water consumption, as if they were connected to the sewage system. This allows the tap fee and plumbing costs to be avoided until the existing septic tank system fails or is in need of replacement.
“The connection policy is not new and was adopted several years ago by the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners in the interest of fairness to all citizens of the community,” according to the letter. It states that the policy was adopted in 1995 and revised in 2002.
Residents also were informed that they could make arrangements for a “financial payment plan,” but that a failure to be connected would result in further action, including legal proceedings.
Given that language, Cail said she was compelled to comply so as to not incur court costs in addition to the connection expenses. “I figured it would be a constant thing — they would force us to do it sooner or later.”
However, Cail, whose home previously was served by a well, said the requirement has posed a financial burden to her and neighbors on fixed incomes.
“We’re all retired,” Cail added. “Everybody on this street here on Burgundy Road is on Social Security.” Burgundy Road is off Wards Gap Road behind Salem United Methodist Church.
Like many city residents, “we did not want to be annexed,” Cail added.
Having to pay more than $1,000 for the water connection will be a burden felt this winter, she said. “That $800 could have went for kerosene,” Cail said of the tap fee alone.
She also is not satisfied with the municipal water her home is now receiving.
“It tastes like swimming pool water,” the Burgundy Road resident said of the chlorine smell it has.
“My little dog won’t even drink it,” she added.
“My well water wasn’t the best, but it didn’t taste like chemicals.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.