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Meeting just the start; do your own homework on the Devola sewer project

There was a moment during this week’s informational meeting about the Devola sewer project that caught my attention-and not for the reason people may think.

A resident asked a question about a potential increase in property taxes after sewering and Washington County Commissioner Ron Feathers came to the microphone to address it. He said taxes are expected to increase, probably by about $500 a year. As he spoke, someone in the crowd yelled out, “The Marietta Times said this would cost us $66,000 per household.” It was said as if he had now found out the number was ridiculous, after hearing cost estimates earlier in the evening. Feathers played into that notion, telling people not to pay attention to what’s in their local paper and to instead just ask him. The audience laughed, some cheered. It wasn’t the unnecessary potshot or the criticism of the newspaper that bothered me–that just goes with the territory. (And I stress, as we did in the Nov. 22 story multiple times, that it was only an estimate with the best information available). But the fact that Feathers seemed to be agreeing that the previously reported estimate was laughable was an alarming moment. It could easily lead to misconceptions about homeowner costs.

Previously in this meeting, project engineers had explained that using the least expensive sewering system (a pressurized system) would cost homeowners $105 a month. Over 30 years, as the previous Times estimate looked at, that would be $37,800. That doesn’t include the $4,060 tap fee (although at Tuesday’s meeting, the project manager mistakenly said it did). Add in that $500 in additional taxes each year over the same time period and the figure increases to $56,860. Now, keep in mind that the $105 figure was only for the lowest-cost project option, along with the fact that Feathers said he expected taxes to increase about $500 but that he didn’t know for sure and that the engineers said all estimates at this point are subject to a 20 percent margin of error. Also, add in the $1,500 replacement cost every seven to 10 years for the pump required at each home to use this overall less expensive option. That’s going to bring the current best case scenario costs to about $61,360 in that 30-year period, and some of the costs will go beyond that time frame. For the more expensive gravity sewer option, with no pump costs but a higher project cost that 30-year figure comes out to $61,900. Unfortunately, that estimate the newspaper reported doesn’t look to be that far off. Instead of laughing, maybe we all should have been crunching the numbers as we learned them.

Those estimates a Times reporter put together in November were certainly in the ballpark (and for the record, we did ask Feathers for numbers at that time and he wasn’t willing to share much information). This is still going to have a significant financial toll on Devola residents.

The point of this column is not to defend our previous article, although I think it was good reporting, meant to give people as much information as possible at that moment in time. (Most of those who seem confused about those estimates seem to be the ones that didn’t read the full article and explanations for each number). Either way, we’ll continue to find out more as we go along in this process. The point of this column is to encourage those who attended the meeting or got the information afterward not to simply feel relief about a figure like $105 a month, which doesn’t sound catastrophic. Do the math and get the full picture. Do your own homework on the two types of sewer systems that might be chosen. Can the pumps that are required for a pressurized system last more than 10 years for smaller households or if well-maintained? Let’s find out. How much have sewer rates gone up in the city over the previous years and decades and what can we expect independent of this project’s costs? Let’s look into that.

This was by far the most informative meeting Devola residents have had. At this point in the project, there is a better idea of what’s to come. However, the information we learned Tuesday should only be a jumping-off point for Devola residents. It’s all available at devolaimprovement.com. If you don’t trust the newspaper’s reporting, that’s fine. If you don’t trust the commissioners, that’s fine. If you don’t want to take the numbers from the engineers at face value, that’s also reasonable. Spend some time, do the math and figure out the real impact for you.

Kate York is the news editor of The Marietta Times. She can be reached at kyork@mariettatimes.com

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