By Stefanie Jackson – Exmore sent letters to its residents in June notifying them that when its $17 million wastewater collection system is built, state and federal funding partners will require all homeowners to connect, even if they have working septic systems.
Three months later, that issue continues to cause frustration for some residents.
Brandi Drummond spoke on the matter at Monday night’s Town Council meeting, saying it’s unfair to expect families who are already financially strapped to pay another bill every month for a service they don’t need.
“It doesn’t make good financial sense for the residents at this time,” she said.
Town Manager Robert Duer said, “our hands are tied,” because the federal and state governments have stated they will help fund the sewer system only if it serves all homes and businesses in town, more than 800 connections.
The June letter instructed all residents to visit the town office and sign easements that will give Exmore public works employees permission to service the grinder pump stations that will be installed on their property.
Drummond objected to signing an easement without knowing the new sewer rates.
Duer explained it will be impossible to determine sewer rates before receiving bids on the project. The more money Exmore borrows to pay for the project, the higher sewer rates must be to repay the loan.
Many Exmore residents are expected to pay few costs of the sewer system other than the monthly service fees.
The cost of the grinder pump stations is included in the $17 million, as is the cost to install the sewer lines to each property.
All home or business owners are responsible for the cost to connect both the drain lines from their buildings and the electricity to the grinder pump stations. However, federal money can cover these costs for qualifying homeowners.
Exmore will belong to the Hampton Roads Sanitation District, which is installing a sewer force main where the railroad tracks once were by U.S. Route 13. The force main will transport wastewater from Exmore and other towns to the treatment plant in Onancock.
Exmore officials asked Drummond, a concerned wife and mother of four children, to consider the advantages of the service.
Councilman G.W. Adkins pointed out that Exmore residents will pay the town directly for sewer service instead of paying HRSD like most customers. The town can arrange payment plans if needed, a service HRSD does not provide.
Adkins said the Town Council did its “due diligence” in weighing all of Exmore’s sewer options over the course of many public meetings that were poorly attended by citizens.
Drummond countered that attending Town Council meetings in person can be difficult for busy parents, and the meetings would be more accessible if they were streamed on Facebook Live. She volunteered to help with the live-streaming.
Director of Utilities Taylor Dukes added that about three years ago the sewer project was “ready to go, and the rug got pulled out from under us on funding.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, material and labor shortages, and inflation, the project would have cost only $9 million or $10 million, he said.
Likewise, Drummond had said that if she needed to replace her septic system today, it would cost $17,000, but accounting for the rate of inflation, the future cost to replace that septic system could rise to $30,000, Dukes said.
Moreover, he told Drummond that state regulations are constantly changing, and in 10 years, it’s possible she may not be permitted to have a new drain field installed.
Dukes said, “You don’t realize it right now, but you’re getting a cost savings” in the long run.