The Hassle of Connecting to the City Sewer System

Posted: 09/10/2014

Kelly, a Springfield, Missouri resident, received a letter from the City of Springfield a few months ago that she wasn’t prepared for. Her family was growing and attempting to move into a larger home to accommodate that, but the letter put a damper on plans. According to the letter, the city would be connecting Kelly’s northside home, and several others in the Woodland Heights neighborhood, to the city sewer lines. And Kelly’s family had few options.

Construction is to begin in October of this year, and the estimated cost per household is $16,000. While the city’s assistance program implemented in 1999 will put a cap on that cost at $8,300 (plus the expense of connecting their home to the sewer line through a plumbing service), this is still a large, unplanned expense for Kelly’s family (and likely many others).

While one would concede that connecting this homes to the city sewer line is probably a good idea, and that doing so is a strong recommendation (requirement?) through the EPA and Missouri Department of Natural Resources, it certainly isn’t without significant drawbacks. Inconvenient construction, torn up yards and a large bill make it virtually impossible for Kelly’s family to sell their home until the project is done and, even then, it will still be difficult.

The Cost
Let’s talk about the most obvious downside to a new sewer system: the wad of cash home owners have to pay out.  Upon completion of the project, the City of Springfield a tax bill to homeowners/business owner within that sewer district. The cost to each customer is calculated with the following formula: (District Cost / District Square Footage) * Property Owner Square Footage = Property Owner Cost. The City does offer repayment options, in addition to the cost cap, which are:
  • Pay the tax bill in full within 30 days
  • An installment plan that basically treats the tax bill like a 15 year loan, including interest. Property owners pay 1/15th of the bill once a year after the issuance of the tax bill. Payment in full can be provided at any time.
  • Apply for a grant to cover the cost of the sewer line. However, if Kelly’s family qualifies for this option, they cannot sell the home within five years, or they have to pay back the grant.

The Need
As much of a nuisance as this is, if you live within the city limits of Springfield, or any other municipality for that matter, it really is to your benefit and the benefit of those around you to be connected to the city sewer system. Being a part of the city sewer system has the following benefits:
  • According to the City of Springfield, it reduces the potential for health hazards and ground water contamination.
  • The geology of the Ozarks is generally considered intolerable of septic systems, causing them to fail frequently.
  • Scientific America points out that most people prefer to be hooked up to city sewer because, once you are, the burden of keeping the system running properly outside of your property falls on the municipalities.
  • Less chance of backup (which can happen frequently with a septic system) because the water is sent to a treatment plant rather than resting in a tank on your property.
  • City systems are better equipped to handle extended or heavy periods of precipitation that a septic system may not be able to bear.

Because of the risk of ground water contamination, Springfield and Greene Country require a minimum 30 acre tract size of land for septic systems and, obviously, most homes in the Woodland Heights neighborhood don’t meet that criteria. So, while Kelly and her neighbors are somewhat backed into a corner both legally (see our article on Easements) and, and the sale of their home will likely have to wait, being on a city sewer system is better in the bigger picture.

One might argue that the financial burden should solely fall on the city, with the exception of hooking a home or business up to the new system. But that is a post for another day.