August 19, 2010
City considers aid for water pipe repairs
Money from previous housing programs could be offered to low-income homeowners
The city’s development consultant has given the Common Council one option it could use to help people to pay for costly repairs to their water systems.
The city could use money it has set aside for housing improvements to give money to residents of Randall and Cedar streets who have low to moderate income levels and want to replace their water pipes.
The city would use money that landlords and homeowners have repaid after the city gave them loans and grants, said Linda Armstrong, program manager for Thoma Development Consultants.
It is not clear how many residents on the two streets have a low enough income level to qualify for the program.
Aldermen made no decision about offering homeowners help during the meeting Tuesday.
The Department of Public Works sent Randall Street and Cedar Street residents letters in July estimating how much the city would charge to replace their water laterals –– iron pipes that extend from the water main under the street to the valves that are turned on to provide water to each house with copper pipes.
The DPW plans to repave those streets in 2011, and about 24 of the residents on those streets still have iron pipes, which some people say are more likely to burst than copper pipes.
Many residents on those streets have said they cannot afford the city’s estimated costs to do the work. The estimates ranged from $2,000 to $2,800.
Aldermen Tom Michales, Linda Ferguson and Stephanie Hayes all said they would support bringing back the program to assist people with low to moderate incomes.
But Michales and Mayor Susan Feiszli both said it will not address the entire problem. They want to make structural changes to the way the city charges residents to repair water pipes.
Feiszli said she wants to include the cost for the work on water bills in the future.
Michales said he wants to find a way to eliminate labor and equipment costs from the city’s estimates for the work because water users are already paying for employees’ salaries and equipment the city bonds for in its water bills.
DPW Superintendent Chris Bistocchi said he will have a shortfall in the water budget this year if he eliminates labor or equipment costs.
Bistocchi told residents Tuesday night that they do not have to replace their pipes. They can wait and replace them in an emergency if one leaks, he said. But Michales said some residents still want to replace the water pipes now.
“Some of the elderly people I’ve talked to, they don’t rest easy at night knowing how they can have a problem at any moment,” Michales said.
The program that the city could bring back was used to help homeowners with low to moderate income levels to replace their water pipes before streets were being repaved from 1997 to 2001, said Armstrong.
She said the council will have to decide whether to bring back to program and what regulations to put on it. Thoma Development, which has a contract with the city to be its development consultant, would administer the program at no additional cost to the city, said Bernie Thoma, senior consultant for the company.
In previous years the city has made $10,000 available for the program, but the city has never distributed it all because it is only available to homeowners with a low enough income level.
Thoma said overall the city had between $300,000 to $400,000 in repaid money from housing programs when his company did its last report in April. That money is now available to residents to make repairs to their homes and sidewalks, and it can be loaned to businesses, Thoma said.
A single person would have to make $32,400 or less a year to get the funding; a two-person family would need to make $37,000 or less; and a four-person family would have to make $46,250 or less.
Each homeowner could receive no more than $750 under the previous programs, Armstrong said. At that time the average cost of replacing water laterals was about $763, she said.
The council would have to decide whether to make more money available now that the estimates have increased to over $2,000, she said.
Armstrong recommended that the council form a committee to develop regulations for the program.
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