Lakewood last year started requiring people in the poorest part of the city to connect to sewers or pay an “availability fee” until they could afford to hook up.
Now the city has decided to give some property owners a break.
Next month, apartment building and mobile home park owners with at least 10 living units will be granted a 50 percent discount on the availability charge, if they apply and qualify.
“The ultimate goal is to get them to connect to the sewer,” said Don Wickstrom, Lakewood’s public works director. “We’re trying to get them going in the right direction.”
Following the completion last year of an $18 million extension of sewer lines into the Tillicum and Woodbrook neighborhoods, the city started requiring property owners to connect at their own expense within 90 days of notification or else pay a monthly charge.
Wickstrom said the monthly charge is approximately $42 per single-family home and $37 per unit in apartment buildings.
About three months ago, some multi-family property owners began expressing concerns to city officials, Wickstrom said.
They said connecting to sewer is a costly endeavor – sometimes disproportionate to their property value. They also said it requires engineering plans and permit reviews, but with tenants locked into a fixed lease, owners have no way to pass costs on to tenants.
“Their cost for connection would be significant,” Wickstrom said. “They asked for help.”
The City Council granted their request Monday by passing an ordinance that grants them a half-off discount on the monthly charge if their sewer connection costs would be greater than $100,000.
Lakewood will not give single-family property owners a similar deal. Wickstrom said it’s not warranted because connecting a single-family home to sewer costs around $5,000, while connecting a multi-family property can cost up to $500,000.
The city does offer a loan program for homeowners wishing to hook up to sewer.
Prior to bringing the ordinance to the council, city staff distributed surveys to the roughly 15 property owners who would qualify for the proposed discount, records show. Six surveys were returned, and while owners appreciated any relief, the consensus was that the discount was not enough.
The survey revealed an overall dissatisfaction among multifamily property owners over the mandatory sewer connection.
Meanwhile, the overall number of Tillicum and Woodbrook property owners who have hooked up to sewer remains small but roughly on par with what the city expected at this point.
Wickstrom estimates out of the roughly 800 residential, commercial and retail properties in the area, there have been about 100 sewer hookups so far.
David Anderson, president of the Tillicum-Woodbrook Neighborhood Association, said approving the ordinance was a nice gesture by the city.
But he said people in his neighborhood are not jumping at the chance to become sewer customers.
“We’re a poor community, so it’s just easier to pay $43 a month rather than paying $7,000 (to connect to the sewer) that we don’t have,” Anderson said.
Lakewood began the sewer extension project in 2005 after the City Council identified it as a top priority to prevent contamination from failing septic systems and to bolster economic development.
Lakewood code allows property owners to continue paying the availability fee for five years. If a property is not connected by then, the city will penalize owners. Wickstrom said that at first fines may be issued; unpaid fines would eventually become a lien against the property. This could be followed by court action, and in extreme cases, foreclosure.
Anderson said residents are aware of the five-year deadline, and many are making sacrifices to meet it.
“Everybody realized that we’d better begin saving money,” he said.