Grinder Tank Clarification – Hot Springs Village

Public Services Director Ken Unger said, “Not much is changing with the grinder tanks. If there is a problem with the grinder tank, the POA is going to come out and fix it. Part of this was an education for me, and I am trying to educate the residents, especially the new residents.”

Continuing, Unger said, “There are different kinds of tanks – there are grinders, there are effluent tanks that have like a septic tank with a pump on one side and a chamber on the other…but there are various types of tanks in the Village. The property owners own those tanks.”

“Prior to 2016, the POA was responsible for replacing and repairing them, but they charged the residents for that service,” explained the Director.

“In the 2016 budget, they eliminated ‘grinder pump maintenance and repair fee’. It didn’t say ‘the whole system.’ It just said, ‘Grinder pump maintenance and repair.’ And they adjusted the rates through a rate study that was done to compensate for that,” said Unger.

“The estimated cost for that, from what I can see, was $135,000. One hundred, thirty-five thousand dollars approximately covers the cost of the pumps,” said Unger.

“Unger stated, “The cost they were trying to cover was pretty much on par. Somehow, and I can’t find evidence of when it changed, somebody changed the language that said, ‘the residents were going to pay for everything’ to ‘the POA was paying for everything’ – not just the pump, but all repairs.”

Unger said, “That is what we have been doing since 2016. The POA, basically, if you have a pump that goes bad, we come out and replace it. If you have a discharge line that goes bad (coming out of the tank up to the street where our demarc point is), we’re going to fix it.”

“Here is the problem. There was never the word ‘maintenance’ in there. There is no word ‘maintenance.’ The POA did not take over the maintenance of anything. And to be honest with you, there is not a lot of maintenance in the tank. It is not like we are in there lubing up the pump every year. Right? Components are under sewage. The lines…the floats are in there. But where there are maintenance requirements, or at least validations in the alarms in the alarm panel – that is the problem.

The POA never took responsibility for ensuring that the tanks were alarmed properly. In other words, the alarms are there, but they [the POA] didn’t take the responsibility to test them – to make sure that they are working. And that creates a problem because if the alarms aren’t working and your tanks overflow, the only way you are going to find out is if your neighbor tells you or if you start having stuff back up in your house.

The POA is not in the position to take that liability on [for testing the grinder alarms] today. I don’t have the resources. We have thousands of these [systems] out there across the Village. The language that I was proposing to the Board, which I still think is good, is to make sure that it is clear to residents that ‘yes, you still own the tanks. You still own the lines. Just like you own your water service line or you own your driveway. The road is common property. The driveway is yours.

Ken Unger, Hot Springs Village Public Services Director

Unger said the POA agreed to make the repairs on the grinder systems but did not agree to maintain it or to validate the alarm.

We will fix the alarms if they are broken. If there is a problem, we generally check the alarm if we are called out to the house for a grinder repair. This is done at POA’s cost.

Ken Unger, Hot Springs Village Public Services Director

“All I am trying to say to residents is, ‘You own the system, and you own making sure that the alarms are working, and here is how you can do that:”

“You can have an electrician come out. We have a schematic for testing the alarms to ensure they are working. By the way, you can also have the electrician install a push button, so you can test it moving forward. There would be a one-time charge to get the electrician to install a button on the panel that allows you to test the alarm, so you don’t have to pay any more to have your alarm tested. You can push it; if it doesn’t work, you can call the POA. But at least you know whether your alarm works,” the Public Services Director explained.

Unger clearly stated that this is just a suggestion and not a requirement.

I am not trying to shift that liability from the POA to the residents. The POA never had that liability to ensure the alarms are working.

Ken Unger, Hot Springs Village Public Services Director

Unger said he also recommends talking to a plumber about installing a popup cleanout valve. The POA does not own the line or maintain the line. Hopefully, if the sewer starts backing up, the cleanout popout valve will prevent wastewater from backing up into your house.” This is also just a suggestion and not a requirement. Unger said he is not a plumber, so property owners may want to discuss the installation of a popup cleanout valve with their plumber.

Committee Member Clark Sanns said that this could not be the POA’s responsibility [to test the alarms] because they would have to visit every house every year. “And that is an outrageous expense for something that is really pretty simple for the homeowner to do, whether they want to or not.”

Unger said, “We don’t want to advocate unless you are an electrician going into the panel. That is why we are recommending you use an electrician. We are saying the answer is to have them install a push-button alarm on the face of your panel. Then you don’t have to open the panel anymore [for testing]. You push the button, and either the audio alarm goes off, or the light goes off, or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, you call us [the POA], and we come out and fix it.”

Unger said this is a proactive approach to ensuring your system works properly.

I can’t analyze every home, so I am recommending you talk to your plumber [about a cleanout valve and popper cleanout valve.] What I am trying to do is help residents. I am not trying to shift costs.

Ken Unger, HSV POA Public Services Director

This conversation came about because of an alarm failure and wastewater backed up in someone’s home. Wastewater backups MAY only affect properties with lower levels, where the lower level is below the level of the grinder tank or the home is below the level of the grinder tank. (This is not to say that anyone could not experience a sewage backup in their home.)

Residents That Repeatedly Flush Unacceptable Items Into the System

On another note, Unger said he has made a recommendation to the Board of Directors that if residents do not listen to recommendations about what they should and should not flush down their toilets and they continue to cause the system to malfunction, there should be language instituted in the Policy Guide that if there are “repeated fallouts from residents for the same issue, you may get a bill for repair.”

Unger said wipes, rags, and excess grease are some of the items and substances which may cause the systems to malfunction.

Unger said he understands if someone makes a mistake, but if you are repeatedly notified that the POA has found wipes or rags around the base of your pump, causing it to burn out, the third repair should be paid for by the homeowner. The cost of the pumps is over $1,000 each.

By Cheryl Dowden

Contact Information for Public Services Director

Ken Unger
Director Public Services
Hot Springs Village