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West Allis officials considering city fund to help homeowners fix leaky laterals

April 22, 2014

West Allis — To help keep rainwater from overwhelming sewage treatment facilities resulting in dumping diluted sewage into lakes and rivers, West Allis officials are thinking of setting up a fund to help homeowners afford to fix leaky sewer laterals that let the rainwater in.

Sewer laterals take waste water from homes to sanitary sewers in the streets that take it to wastewater treatment facilities.

The proposed fund is a groundbreaking idea, but city attorney Scott Post said its legal underpinnings are sound. While the fund would be mainly to help finance laterals, it could also be used for other things to keep rain out of sanitary sewers.

The city is in a crunch because at the same time sewer laterals age and become increasingly leaky, especially in older sections of the city, West Allis is under an enforcement ruling to reduce the amount of rainwater getting into its sanitary sewers.

To find a way out of that crunch, the city proposes that all single-family, duplex and three-family owners chip in $40 annually to the fund. If their laterals need relining to make them watertight, they would only pay $1,500 instead of the estimated $5,500 it would cost to have the work done privately, officials said.

But if it's an emergency repair, the tab would be $3,000 with the fund's help, compared with an estimated $12,000 if the lateral is in the street and $4,000 if the lateral is in the yard.

Information about the proposal will soon go to homes and a public hearing will be set.

While the impetus for the proposed program is to help fix sewer laterals, the fund could be used for other things. That expanded role for the proposed fund is crucial in case the city ever needs to drop the program. Otherwise, people paying in for help with laterals have a right to that help, Post said.

Even so, Alderman Gary Barczak, Public Works Committee chairman, said the city can't go back on the plan once it's approved.

"This decision is final. It's forever," he said. Because of that, he wondered if it should go to a referendum before the council votes on it.

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