Council moves forward on sewer access fee

Published 11:12 am Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Austin City Council is one step closer to a new way to charge people for sewer access.

Council members preliminarily approved a sewer access fee formula during their Monday work session.

The city of Austin has researched a sewer access fee after a judge in 2013 threw out three $15,000 assessments for properties annexed into the city from the former Lansing Township. City staff have broken the fee down into three charges — a sanitary sewer permit fee, a sewer lateral development charge to extend sewer services on the property to a structure, and a sewer service charge.

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The charges — about $500 for a permit fee, between $11,000 and $12,500 for the development charge and either $675 or $845 for the service charge — are meant for new commercial and residential properties that want to hook up to the city’s sewer, according to Public Works Director Steven Lang.

Lang told the council the new sewer charge would replace the city’s assessment policy, which means residents who wished to connect to the city’s sewer system — and who already haven’t had their properties previously hooked up to the city — would pay the fee up-front rather than spread out over 15 years.

The service fee would technically lower costs for the former Lansing township properties, from $15,000 to about $13,675. Yet Austin Utilities, which previously recouped some of its sewer construction funds through assessments, may come up with a similar fee structure now that the city has done away with assessments.

Lang said the new policy’s costs were comparable to the assessment system, which means the city wouldn’t lose money to put in sewer for new residents.

“We’re not just pulling numbers out of a hat,” he told the council. “We looked at construction costs and … recent projects to come up with this policy.”

The new policy wouldn’t force former Lansing residents to hook up to the city if they already have a compliant sewer system, and Lang said any property owner with no sewer currently in place won’t be forced to install sewer services on their property.

Former Lansing residents seemed torn about the new sewer charge. Though some residents like Jim Davis thought the policy was about as fair as possible given the circumstances, others were concerned the city wasn’t doing enough to mitigate costs.

“Watch out for the old and the young people who can’t pay for this,” one resident said.

Finance Director Tom Dankert said the policy was about as fair as the city could be to residents who wanted sewer service but didn’t want an assessment system.

The council will vote at its next meeting July 21 to formally approve the access fee.