Although there were fears it wouldn’t pass due to cost concerns, it took less than a year for Airline and Luke Drive residents to collect enough ‘yes’ votes to join the sewer district.
For the past several years, numerous residents have campaigned to join the Northern Gila County Sanitary District over fears that the groundwater supply was being contaminated from leaky septic systems, and the cost to repair aging systems was growing.
These homeowners could finally breathe a sigh of relief Monday night after the sanitary board annexed the Airline/Luke corridor.
While homeowners had up to a year to decide if they wanted to join the district, on Monday, the board announced that roughly 56 percent of residents had approved the annexation. In addition, owners of more than 55 percent of the assessed valuation within the annexation signed the petition.
Now, it will be several months before residents know the true cost to join the district. The board approved a $104,770 contract with Tetra Tech Thursday for a design and engineering plan of the sewer system for the corridor. Once that plan is complete, homeowners will have a better idea how much their property tax will go up. Until then, residents are left worried they could see their taxes double for the umpteen years it takes to pay off a bond.
Lawyer Fred Rosenfeld explained it is too early to predict what the system will cost or if the system will go in at all.
Although the district has annexed the area, residents still have an opportunity to stop the sewer system from coming into the neighborhood.
“The first part only determines if you get annexed,” Rosenfeld said to some 20 residents who attended Monday’s meeting.
Additional hearings will lay out construction costs for the system, and if enough residents protest the cost, the project will stop, he said.
Tetra Tech estimates it will take three months to complete the engineering study, at that time the district will notify residents with harder numbers for the project.
At that time, residents against the project can “protest” by sending a letter to the district stating they do not want the improvements imposed by the the sanitary district.
After hearing this, one resident at the meeting stood and said he agrees with the project’s goal of providing adequate and safe sanitation to the area, just not the timing. The man said he would like the district to give residents time to pay for the project.
District Chairman Robert Sanders said residents would receive plenty of notification of what the project will cost and how long they will have to pay.
However, “if they get organized to protest it, we are not going to impose,” Sanders said. “We are here to serve you if you want us to.”
Once an assessment fee is determined, residents have the option to pay the full amount in cash. If they cannot or choose not to pay it up front, it will go to bond, which will likely be paid over 10 to 15 years with interest, Rosenfeld said.
Resident Cheryl Chance asked the board if any grants were available. Resident Joyce Bucher said the United States Department of Agriculture might have some funds available.
Buzz Walker, Payson’s Water Department manager, said the water department is still willing to contribute $300,000 toward the project. In addition, Payson will pay the assessment fee on four properties that it owns in the area.
While residents can expect to pay an assessment fee for construction of the sewer line, they can also expect to pay an additional amount to hook their home to the line in the street.
Some residents at the meeting expressed concern that they would not be able to pay for construction of the connection.
Joel Goode, manager of the Northern Gila County Sanitary District, said the district normally gives residents 30 days to hook up to the sewer line, but the board could decide to give Airline residents more time.
If residents cannot afford the connection costs, they do have the option of making the connection themselves. Goode said they have paperwork that details what materials must be used and how the connection should be made. If residents are interested in doing it themselves, they can pick up the information at the district office, 2200 W. Doll Baby Ranch Road.
On top of assessment and connection costs, residents must also pay to have their old septic system dismantled once the sewer line is complete. Again, residents can pay someone to do the work for them or they can fill the septic tank with cement and granite to fill the void.
While residents are leery of paying for the project, Sanders pointed out now is a good time to get work done because construction costs are low.
For example, the district recently had a contractor complete work on McKamey Street for much less than expected.
“It could be a possible silver lining to a cloud,” he said.