At the Wednesday, May 17 HSVPOA Board Meeting, Public Services Director Ken Unger said the policy change being discussed under new business was due to a recent incident that resulted in a member’s home being flooded by sewage and costing the homeowner many thousands of dollars for cleanup. Although backflow preventers were present at the grinder tank and the street, both systems failed. “The realization from this incident was that homeowners didn’t clearly understand the demarcation of responsibility for [their] sewer system,” stated Unger.

A property owner commented to Unger that the POA has responsibility for maintaining the grinder tank systems and wastewater lines on private property. Unger disagreed with this statement.

Unger said there are very few records, but it is his understanding that in 2017, for a charge of $1 per month on the sewer bill, the POA took responsibility only for repairing damages to the grinder tank systems and the line running from the street back to the grinder tank. The $1 a month charge yields the POA approximately $108,000 per year, but the cost to perform this service is around $300,000 a year, which considers salaries and system parts. Unger explained that the $1 a month charge does not cover the cost to the POA and that this issue may be discussed in the future.

When the POA instituted the $ 1-a-month charge, they did not take responsibility for the system’s maintenance, including the grinder tank, the line, or the alarm system. This created a dilemma because, historically, POA staff has encouraged homeowners not to let anyone touch the grinder system. Unger said that, according to staff, “In the past, when a third party went in and started messing around with the tanks and pumps, problems were created.” This led to the POA encouraging homeowners to use the POA to fix problems with the system.

While POA employees respond to 30 to 40 grinder tank failures each week, the problem is that the POA is not maintaining the thousands of systems. Essentially, at this time, no one maintains the grinder tanks and/or alarm systems.

Unger and staff mulled over possible solutions. Two unsatisfactory fixes were:

  • The POA could try to maintain all of the grinder tank systems. This is a cost that the POA currently cannot cover.
  • Allow homeowners to hire someone to maintain the grinder tank and whatever else is required. “We believe that creates a conflict between what POA staff wants to keep in their control versus what the homeowner should be responsible for,” stated Unger.

Ultimately, Unger and staff “came up with a solution that they believe will be the best of both worlds, to protect both the POA Member as well as the POA staff and our village support network, and that is to give homeowners the ability to have a licensed electrician to check the alarms. At the end of the day, unless the alarm goes off, everything is working. What we found is that in a lot of cases, the alarm is not working. We are obviously not positioned to test all of the thousands of alarms in the system,” explained the Public Services Director.

Unger said the language in the presented discussion clarifies that the property owner owns the tanks and lines to the street and the line between the grinder tank and the house. We are asking that they take responsibility for alarm testing. If a licensed electrician determines a problem when testing the alarm, the homeowner should call the POA and request a repair.

The second part of the discussion is a recommendation that property owners install a sewer popper cleanout. Click here to read “Popper Relief Valve Could Help to Prevent Sewer Backup.” In cases where a grinder fails, and a popper relief valve is present, this allows sewage to flow out of the cleanout, hopefully preventing backflow into the home. Popper relief valves are sold at Home Depot and Lowes for approximately $30.

The memo reads, “The Property Owner owns and shall be responsible for ensuring proper alarming of the wastewater collection system. Yearly inspections by a licensed electrician via testing of alarms within the control panel are recommended. It is also highly recommended that property owners install a sewer popper cleanout on the line connecting their residence to the wastewater collection system. Any damage done to any property owner’s property or residence as a result of a wastewater collection system failure is the sole responsibility of the property owner.”

Board Chair Joanie Corry said the discussion memo explains what property owners are responsible for [regarding the grinder tank systems], and “there should be no miscommunication.”

General Manager Kelly Hale said that the issue is typical of some misunderstandings the POA is working to clear up. “Talking to many of the folks that have been here for a while, the original intent of the $1 per month charge was to replace the pump when it wears out, which is about a ten-year life cycle.”

Humorously, Hale continued, “That was it. Somehow it morphed into ‘we’re going to do your windows and also fix this [other added items]…”

“We are trying to right-size a lot of these things and communicate them back out there so that we can manage the cost and make sure our members have the service they need at the same time,” added Hale.

This policy change will most likely be presented to the Board of Directors in a motion at the June 21, 2023, Board Meeting for further discussion and a vote. Unger will add language clarifying the repair of new systems [systems less than one-year-old].

Contact Information for Public Services Director

Ken Unger
Director Public Services
Hot Springs Village

By Cheryl Dowden