Airline, Luke Residents To Vote On Joining Sewer District

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Homes in the shaded area have the chance to join the Northern Gila County Sanitary District if 51 percent of the homeowners approve a petition.

Although it may cost residents roughly $10,000 each to join the Northern Gila County Sanitary District, Payson officials implored residents to make the switch to save two wells from leaky septic tanks and possibly avoid future aggravation from failing systems.

“The consequences of inaction are not pretty,” said Joel Goode, manager of the Northern Gila County Sanitary District. “Every time it rains, I get calls from the neighborhood about sewage coming out of property.”

It is now up to some 126 landowners living in the largest section of town still on septic systems to decide if they want to shell out the money to join the district, although it may be more than two years before they have to pay.

The sanitary district met Thursday evening to hear residents’ concerns and answer questions about the project. After hearing from more than 40 residents, who live off Airline and Luke Drive, east of the Beeline Highway, the board unanimously voted to send out annexation petitions.

Once homeowners receive the ballots, they have up to a year to decide if they want to join the sanitary district. In order for the annexation to occur, 51 percent of the property owners must approve it, and the signatures must represent 51 percent of the assessed valuation. Once this occurs, the board will proceed with annexing the area and designing a sewage system.

Once the system is in place, residents like Cheryl Chance, who shares her home with her family of six, would no longer have to worry about septic tanks that fill up and clog.

However, a large number of residents expressed concern over the cost to join the district saying they do not have the money, especially in these economic times, to join.

One resident said he is on a fixed income and simply can’t afford it. Another said they would love to join, but they cannot afford the bond payments.

Other residents who spoke, said residents concerned over finances would have at least two years to save up enough money.

Several residents asked the board if they could somehow find a way to reduce the cost of the current $1.5 million proposal.

Goode said if the annexation went through, they would look at outside funding as part of the bonding process.

The town has already offered to chip in $300,000 due to concern’s two wells in the area are being contaminated by leaky systems.

Buzz Walker, head of Payson’s water department, said in one of the wells trace levels of nitrate are showing up, although the water is still safe to drink.

The town’s offer would lower homeowner’s costs around $2,000, but Walker stressed, “that offer will not be there forever.”

That means homeowners would have to pay at least $8,000 to have a sewer line extended to the edge of their property and would then have to pay an additional amount to hook up their home to that line. The cost to do that ranges wildly from house to house based on when and how they were built.

Chance asked if homeowners could make the connection themselves and the Goode said they could and the district would help in any way possible.

Once the sewer lines were installed, homeowners would still have to pump their septic tank dry and fill it in with granite. This would be an additional cost not covered by the bond. Additionally, homeowners with two lots would be required to pay the assessment fee for both lots.

A homeowner could combine two lots and only have to pay one fee.

However, if the petition fails and homeowners choose to stay on septic tanks, they could be looking at higher costs down the road, said Jake Garrett, the county’s wastewater department manager.

Garrett estimated that when a tank fails, homeowners are looking at spending $25,000 to install an alternative system that takes up a considerable chunk of space underground.

“We have stuck our heads in the ground for awhile,” Walker said. “If we don’t do it now and you have to put in an alternative system, it is going to cost a lot more.”

Resident Jaime Escobedo said the neighborhood has needed to make this change for years.

“It is a time bomb if we don’t do this,” he said. “It’s time.”

The sanitary district board said it will send out petitions as soon as possible and will hold a regular meeting July 23 at noon in the district offices.

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