City may take ownership of sewer lines from local residents

The Urbana City Council will vote on passing an ordinance to finalize public ownership of privately owned sewer lines at its Monday night meeting.

Urbana houses that are west of Vine Street and between Florida Avenue and Bradley Street use privately owned sewer lines that are the responsibility of homeowners.

These older houses have lines that serve more than one house and run into a collector system, and if a blockage occurs, the neighbors— not the city— have to determine who cleans the lines.

“The city wants to be in the position of owning and maintaining the common collector systems,” said Charlie Smyth, Ward 1. “Illinois Environmental Protection Agency recognizes that this is for the common good. Nobody wants sewage backing up into their homes. It’s a burden on the homeowner.”

If Urbana gains ownership of the lines, homeowners do not have to take responsibility for cleaning the sewer systems.

“It’s a lot easier for neighbors,” said Brandon Bowersox, Ward 4. “To try to get all the neighbors to split the cost to repair (those private sewer lines) gets complicated. It truly makes more sense for the city to take it over.”

The sewer network for Urbana has been routinely monitored by the city staff, Bowersox added. The staff uses cameras to view the sewer pipes to make sure they are in good working condition, and the city will provide the same basic maintenance if the ordinance passes.

“There will be no impact on the taxpayer beyond what they’re paying,” Smyth said. “They’re already paying for the common care of the sewer systems.”

There is about $25,000 in the sewer benefit tax fund, he added. This funding comes from Urbana residents who pay a sewer benefit tax, which will help create manholes that typically cost between $5,000 and $10,000 to construct.

Robert Lewis, Ward 3, said this ordinance would alleviate the burden on families because the city would be allowed to make necessary repairs for those privately owned lines without the hassle of determining responsibility. In some subdivisions, the sewer lines run underneath the street to the individual’s home. If a blockage did occur, then it would be problematic for the homeowner because of costly repairs.

“We’ve moved the maintenance to our local government for taking care of the sewer systems,” Smyth said. “It’s an expected function to serve the common good.”