First, a disclaimer: "Obamacare" is about to be referenced, even though today’s topic is not regarding health care. So for those opposed, don’t immediately use this column as toilet paper.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Obamacare was constitutional on the grounds that it was a tax. Had it been a mandatory purchase, where government required citizens to buy something, it would have undoubtedly not passed legal muster.
Which makes the situation occurring in, but not limited to, Upper Providence Township, Delaware County, absolutely mind-blowing. The local government, via its sewer authority, has been mandating residents pay huge out-of-pocket costs to connect to the new public sewer system being installed throughout the township — even if one’s septic system is working flawlessly.
In other words, if your house is less than 250 feet from the road, which the vast majority are, you are required by a duty-to-connect ordinance to shell out big bucks for something you might not want, need, nor can afford (despite already paying substantial taxes). There are no opt-outs, negotiations, exceptions. You buy in, or else.
And "or else" is staggeringly severe.
But first, a brief primer:
While the sewer authority is officially a "separate" entity from the township, we’re going to dispense with the legalese and consider them interchangeable. The township council created the authority and chooses its members, so without question, if it disagreed with the program, forced sewers would have been a non-starter. Bottom line: They’re all in this cesspool together.
Several years ago, it was determined by paternalistic Upper Providence leaders — who obviously know what is best for the people — that building public sewers was the way to go. So they enacted ordinances requiring residents to participate in what amounted to a double-whammy initiative. (Disclaimer No. 2: I am not an Upper Providence resident, so am not affected).
The first step is to pay for the sewer line that runs along the street, known as the "tapping fee." The bill? Six thousand dollars per household. (Technically, the fee is $5,700, but the sewer authority rubs salt in the wound by tacking on a $300 "permit application fee." That’s great — making you pay for a permit after having a $5,700 bill shoved down your throat. Real classy.)
Here’s a thought for the township council and sewer authority: As stewards of the people’s money — and it is their money, not yours — you shouldn’t forge ahead on unnecessary projects, especially if the municipality can’t afford them. That’s a lesson Chris Christie has been teaching, and it’s paying huge dividends. Passing the buck to residents because you want a pet project is unconscionable. Continued…
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And what if you don’t play ball? What if you don’t have an extra $6,000 lying around? What if you are a cash-strapped new homeowner, or have several tuition bills? What if your job is on shaky ground, or you already lost it? What if you are a senior on a fixed income, just trying to live your golden years, but are now forced to choose between medicine, food, heat (all skyrocketing in price), or forking over money to the government for something you don’t need?
In case you’re wondering, no financing is offered by Upper Providence. So for many, good luck getting a loan, since banks aren’t exactly lending to the under- or unemployed and retired seniors. And if you can’t foot the bill, the government can place a lien on your home, robbing you of your right to sell your most valuable asset. Where are we? Venezuela? Hugo Chavez, eat your decomposing heart out!
But that’s only the beginning. After the tapping installation is completed, homeowners are required, again on their own dime, to connect to the sewer line via private contractor within 90 days. The financial toll of that whopper? It varies, but another $6,000 to 8,000 is not uncommon (including yes, another permit fee!).
In addition to liens, homeowners also face a summary offense and fines of up to $1,000 per day for not connecting, and no, that’s not a misprint. So now the government can bankrupt you and render your house unsellable, all for the high crime of using an operational septic system that isn’t legally banned in a situation where there are no aggrieved parties.
And what if you just forked over $20,000 or $30,000 for a new septic system? Tough excrement. You get a minimal reprieve of a few years before you are required to hook up, but that’s it. Those unlucky people get doubly flushed down the toilet, losing their investment and paying for a totally unnecessary sewer connection. To top it all off, residents also must pay to have their septic systems professionally pumped out, have holes punched in the bottom prior to backfilling, and remove lids from the existing tanks. Not cheap.
How can the government be so utterly callous with the hardship they cause? The answer, directly from its website, is nauseating:
"From a philosophical view, if government and industry continue to put off spending, the recession will only continue. Projects such as this sewer project are in fact good for the economy and provide jobs for companies and employees."
Gee, what a great rationale for upending people’s lives! Seriously! What planet are these nincompoops living on? Uranus?
Do they have any idea how the local economy could really be booming if residents didn’t have to shell out $15,000 for a project that is no more ecologically sound than the septic systems it replaces? How many home improvement projects of real value could have been constructed? Or new businesses that may have started? Or new cars that would have been purchased? Nights out on the town? All curtailed or completely kyboshed because of Big Brother.
Yet the free market could have easily solved the problem. If most people on a given street opted for public sewers, they would be able to sell their houses for substantially more than those who remained on septic. Prospective buyers, anticipating they might want to connect at a later date, would factor that into their lower offer price. A win-win, as individuals, not the government, would have chosen what was best for them. Case closed. Continued…
Instead, for those who don’t connect, the government snatches away the right to sell their house, while potentially fining them incalculable sums, creating immense animosity where there should be harmony.
The only thing more surprising than this in-your-face bullying is that too few expressed public outrage or tried to stop the program in court. It’s too late now for Upper Providence residents, but perhaps not for others in the region, such as those in Edgmont Township, where their government is moving in the same forced-sewer direction.
But give Upper Providence credit for one thing. On the "History" section of its website, it states that the area once "was an open and free land."
At least they got the tense correct.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected]