Hundreds of homeowners who currently use septic systems in southeast Bend would spend no more than $25,000 each to connect to a new sewer line under a plan headed for the Bend City Council.

Area residents will have a chance at an Aug. 15 council session to share any concerns about the plan, which was proposed by a committee that’s spent the past year figuring out how best to connect 599 homes in southeast Bend to the city’s sewer.

The plan would cap how much homeowners will pay to connect to the sewer system, offer property owners ways to finance their connections and provide financial support for people who can’t afford to connect.

“One of the more important considerations here is affordability,” said Scott Johnson, a southeast Bend homeowner and committee member.

Eight of the 11 committee members live in the southeast Bend area being discussed — an area bordered by 15th Street, the Central Oregon Irrigation District canal, Ferguson Road and Reed Market Road.

Committee work mainly focused on the southeast Bend area, which has been without sewer access since it was annexed 20 years ago.

A recently completed major sewer line nearby triggered a state law that requires homeowners living within 300 feet of a sewer line to connect to the line instead of repairing their septic systems.

The estimated cost of connecting to the sewer line ranges from a few thousand dollars to more than $100,000, depending on topography and distance from city pipes. If a home 290 feet from a new sewer line had its septic system fail, that owner would likely end up paying tens of thousands of dollars to connect, while neighbors could later tie into that homeowner’s line for much less.

Instead of making connections as septic systems fail, the committee recommended doing the work all at once and completing it within the next three years. Costs to install sewer lines go up 5 to 7 percent each year, so getting work done quickly will save money, Johnson said.

If the City Council approves the committee’s plan, homeowners would pay no more than $25,000 total to connect: up to $18,000 each for public sewer lines under the road and up to $7,000 to connect those lines to their own homes.

Homeowners could pay for that through what’s known as a local improvement district — a special tax imposed on residents of one neighborhood to pay for infrastructure improvements in that neighborhood. The committee hopes the council allows several payment options, including paying up front, financing through the city or using low-interest loans through a nonprofit organization. It also wants to make sure at least one of the options won’t exceed $250 a month in payments.

Committee members also recommended a city code change to ensure no homes can be foreclosed on because of costs related to the sewer connection. It recommended charging a temporary citywide sewer fee — possibly $5 per month — to help pay to connect all septic-using homes in Bend to the sewer system and provide assistance to low-income residents. There are an additional 2,200 homes that use septic systems that are outside the southeast Bend area being discussed.

Johnson said he understood from talking to neighbors, particularly those who recently installed new septic systems, that many want the public part of the project to move forward but want leeway on when they have to connect. If the city allows that flexibility, it should explain to homeowners what costs could be associated with waiting, he said.

“All of us as homeowners need to fully understand the cost so we can make an informed decision on when to move forward,” he said.

Irene Bernstein, who has a septic system at her southeast Bend home, said she and her neighbors are trying to get the word out about the coming costs of connecting to the sewer system.

“Nobody’s happy about that large amount, but the people in the group who’ve attended meetings think it’s the best option,” she said. “The rest of us are upset because the city didn’t set aside money for years for this.”

Paul Quagliata, who moved to the neighborhood four years ago from a rural area just east of Bend, said the city should have provided sewer services when most of the land was annexed in 1998.

“Like everybody, I totally am perturbed by the fact that the city has failed to live up to their responsibility by not providing services, not just here but whenever they annex areas into the city,” he said. “Here it is 20 years later, and they’re just now discussing it.”

Stalling meant Bend no longer has access to federal grants and loans that were available just a decade ago, he said. It puts more of the burden on residents, many of whom are retired people on fixed incomes, he said. While Quagliata doesn’t want to pay for the city portion of the project, he said the committee’s recommendation is a workable solution that he hopes the city approves.

“It could be a lot worse, and that’s the bottom line,” he said.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160; jshumway@bendbulletin.com

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