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Paynesville Press - Sept.18,2002

Roscoe approves city septic system

By Bonnie Jo Hanson

After a public hearing on Monday, Sept. 9, the Roscoe City Council voted unanimously to build a city-wide septic system.

The planned system will function similarly to a typical residential septic system – but on a larger scale. The new system will use septic tanks, most shared by three or more homes, which will drain into a common drainfield west of town.

The estimated cost for the system is $297,000 – to be financed with a low-interest rural development loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture – or roughly $5,200 per residential unit.

Exactly how to pay for the project has not been decided. The council suggested the loan could be paid by assessment, user fees, or a combination of both.

Annually, the new system should cost the city about $31,000 to run and retire the debt. Operating costs, including administration, will be about $1,500. Maintenance on the system should run about $1,500 per year, and the city should put $2,000 into the bank each year to have funds available when the system eventually needs to be replaced. The remainder of the annual fees, about $26,000, will go to paying the loan.

If the council opts for a special assessment, residents could expect to pay approximately $454 per year for 20 years and have a $3-$5 monthly user fee. The advantage to this option is that residents could pay the assessment in full at any time to avoid paying interest.

If the council decides to pay for the system with just a user fee, the fee could be as much as $43 per month.

A show of hands by the 30 residents at the public hearing indicated they would prefer a combination of an assessment and a user fee. Some of the residents said that a user fee of $15-$20 per month with an assessment to cover the remainder would be ideal.

Currently, city residents are required to have a well-functioning individual septic system. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) sets standards for septic systems and before a property can be sold its septic system must be inspected for compliance.

Residents of Roscoe have been exempted from inspections because of a moratorium that was due to expire immediately if the city decided not to install a city-wide system.

Unfortunately, according to Mike Christian, a city council member, many individual systems in the city may be failing or out-of-compliance, and, because of space restrictions and soil conditions in the city, those systems could be very costly or even impossible to replace.

A failing septic system, he reminded residents, is unsafe. It could contaminate the water table, which, in turn, could affect drinking water.

At an informational meeting held in July and again at last week's public hearing, John Kolb, an attorney who specializes in environmental law, assured residents that a city-wide system would be safer than an individual septic system because it would be monitored regularly. The system should be less expensive for residents to use than replacing their individual systems, and the new system may have the added advantage of raising property values.

Kolb gave residents a cost break-down and suggested several ways to keep costs low. The estimate for construction costs is approximately $225,000 for a drainfield, lift stations and mains, for installing tanks and pipes, and for vacating existing residential septic systems. Engineering should cost approximately $57,000, while land and other items should cost about $15,000.

The tanks for the new system will be placed in easements between properties. One way costs can be kept down, suggested Kolb, would be for residents to sell their easements to the city for $1.

The city is aware that some residents have septic systems that have recently been installed. The council originally played with the idea of not requiring these residents to hook up to the new system immediately, but the conditions of the loan require 100 percent compliance, so everyone in town would have to hook up immediately.

The city would like to purchase some of those tanks that are relatively new and well-functioning. Originally, city officials discussed purchasing the tanks for their market value, but later decided that doing so would be impractical. Kolb suggested that the city buy these tanks for $1 apiece to help keep costs low.

Now that the project has been approved, engineer Larry Haukos can begin to make construction plans. He intends to work with each household on an individual basis to decide where pipes, tanks, and lift stations can be placed best. The city hopes to finalize construction plans over the winter and be able to take bids and start construction in the spring.

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