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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

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Villas Water Lines Can Use Fed Funds

By Jack Fichter

VILLAS — Lower Township Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA) has scaled back plans for the capacity of a new water tower behind the Millman Center making an extra $300,000 to $400,000 available to install additional water mains in Villas.
At a Nov. 5 MUA Commissioner’s meeting, Board Engineer Mathew Ecker said the size of the proposed Millman Water Tower will be reduced from 1 million gallons to 500,000 gallons.
“We already cleared with USDA that if we did that, we could take that money and use it to do more water infrastructure,” he said.
Ecker said he was evaluating areas where water mains could be installed. He said, preliminarily, the project would involve connections in the Jacksonville and Miami avenues area.
“The goal eventually is to infill and complete all the mains in that area,” he said.
Ecker said USDA is waiting for the township to pass a mandatory water connection ordinance before final approval is received for the Millman Water Tower. The ordinance would require homeowners to connect to municipal water when water mains are installed in their streets.
“That was one of the conditions of approval for bidding that project,” said Ecker.
He said the MUA also needed to get the deed for the property where the tower would be located from the township.
Ecker said he would seek a waiver from USDA for the mandatory connection ordinance since building the tower would “not create a lot of opportunities for new connections.”
He said only about 16 new connections would be associated with the project.
Resident Frank Saracco said if one looked at a chart of where municipal water was available in Villas, it was like “hopscotch.”
“There’s a spot here and a spot here and a spot there, and in between, you’ve got nothing,” he said. “This had been going on for years and years and years.”
He said the MUA’s plans to complete water main installation in Villas in phases were not followed.
Saracco said the county Health Department last tested wells in Villas four years ago.
“We don’t know what we are drinking,” he said.
Saracco said the county Health Department charges more than $200 to test a homeowner’s well.
MUA Board of Commissioners Chairman Pete Bitting said some residents might be drinking “bad water” because they don’t want to pay for the test.
County Health Department Director Kevin Thomas told the Herald it has been at least two years since his agency tested homeowner’s wells in Villas. He said the health department offered a well testing package for about $300.
“It depends what you get checked,” said Thomas. “If you get volatile organics, then that is the big ticket item and if you are just checking for bacteria, manganese and pH and few other things, it is $100 or less.”
He said he hasn’t seen much well testing from Villas residents recently. State law requires well water to be tested when a home is sold.
Thomas said it was a good idea to get a well tested every two years.
Ecker said MUA had enough water available to serve all homeowners in Villas and added the MUA was looking for funding opportunities.
Saracco called MUA’s connection fee of over $2,000 “ridiculous.”
Commissioner Charles Garrison said MUA has been asking township council for at least three years to pass a mandatory connection ordinance.
Ecker said it was a concern of MUA and its funding agencies that the authority would expend money to install water mains but homeowners would refuse to connect. He called that a “stranded investment.”
Bitting said almost 500 property owners have refused to connect despite having a water main running by their house.
Garrison said homeowners who need and want municipal water far outweigh the 400 or more property owners who refuse to connect. He said there are probably 2,000 to 3,000 persons who “desperately want water.”
Garrison said only a small percentage of those who have water in their street and refused to connect have done so for financial reasons.
“When you make it mandatory, you can get money to put the pipes in,” said Bitting. “We’ve been waiting three years for the township (to pass an ordinance) and they won’t do it.”
Garrison suggested a survey form be placed in the Herald asking three questions of Villas homeowners:
• Do you have a water main in your block?
• If you have a water main available, why haven’t you connected?
• If we put a water main down your street, will you connect?
He said the cost of a newspaper ad would be less expensive that mailing a survey to all residents that don’t have municipal water.
Last July, MUA Commissioners voted to recommend to township council a connection fee of $1,600 for homeowners who have water available in their street but have not connected.
At that time, MUA Executive Director Mike DeMarcantonio said he believed everyone should actually pay $2,800 “because that’s what it costs.”
He said to get a $1,600 connection fee, a property owner would be required to apply within one year, connect immediately and begin paying their monthly water bill.
A homeowner will have a maximum of three years at no interest to pay the $1,600 connection fee. After a one-year grace period expires, a homeowner would pay the full $2,800 fee if they do not connect.
After two years and no connection, the MUA would place a lien on a property for the connection fee.
In July, commissioners voted to raise water connection fees for new construction for single-family units to $2,890 and sewer connection charges to $2,806. That also applied to streets where pipes do not currently exist.
Contact Fichter at (609) 886-8600 Ext 30 or at: jfichter@cmcherald.com

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