Editorial: Set aside money to connect homes to sewer

Published Aug 31, 2014 at 12:14AM

One of the Bend’s priciest problems is unsewered homes. At least 2,500 homes in Bend use septic systems. There’s another 1,000 acres of undeveloped land in the city with no access to the sewer system.

The city would like to see those homes and areas connected to city sewer. So would we.

The cost just for bringing the 2,500 homes into the sewer system could easily be tens of millions of dollars. The city fees can be $4,000 per home and it can cost a homeowner $8,000 to $15,000 or more or more to pay to connect to the pipe.

Do the homes on septic have to connect to city sewer? Not in most cases.

But when a septic system fails, the city says a Department of Environmental Quality regulation requires that if the home is within 300 feet of an existing sewer line, the home must connect.

The big question is: Who should pay to connect the homes?

The answer now is the homeowner pays. That’s going to be a slow process because of the costs.

A city committee that studied the city’s sewer issues recommended that when the city raises its sewer rates to pay for infrastructure improvements, the city should begin in a few years to set $1 million aside a year to help connect homes to city sewer. That money could be used to create a revolving loan program.

That would be a smart thing for the city to do, but it’s not without some awkwardness. Imagine how you would feel if you paid $20,000 to connect your home to city sewer and the city now starts helping others pay for it. Arguably, homeowners who already paid to connect could recoup some or all of their investment when a home was sold. That’s not going to be enough, though, to make everyone happy.

When the City Council votes on its new sewer rates, it should commit to setting aside money as the committee recommended. The council has at times expressed frustration that previous councils have not been so farsighted. It should not make the same mistake.