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11:45 PM Mon, Nov. 12th

Kingman forum grapples with sewer concerns

Mayor John Salem and Councilman Mark Wimpee explain city laws designed to get people connected to the sewer system.

AHRON SHERMAN/Miner<br> Mayor John Salem and Councilman Mark Wimpee explain city laws designed to get people connected to the sewer system.

Plenty of explanations were offered at the Thursday town hall meeting dedicated mainly to city laws requiring people hook into the Kingman sewer system when their septic systems fail or they want to develop their property.

Solutions, on the other hand, were harder to come by.

Residents Against Irresponsible Development organized the meeting in response to a recent City Council decision to deny Karen and Leonard Zeyouma's appeal of a recent decision made by the Municipal Utilities Commission.

The Zeyoumas asked the city to allow them to move their septic system so that there was more room to expand their home. The commission denied their request.

The decisions were based on Kingman utility regulations, enacted in 2004, which state, "After a public sewer is available, development on a previously undeveloped property or redevelopment of a previously developed property shall be connected to the public sewer system."

Fewer than 20 people showed up to the meeting, which was chaired by Mayor John Salem.

Salem focused on two issues and explained how they shaped the law.

Throughout the years, people have allowed their septic systems to fail and saturate the drain field soil (also known as leach fields), which basically means the system is clogged up and the solids have nowhere to go.

The septic tank saturation problem had to be addressed to protect the city's groundwater, Salem said. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality went so far as to say that the city needed to start getting people off of septic systems, he said. This law essentially steers people toward connecting to system.

Then there are the wastewater treatment facilities that Kingman borrowed $50 million to revamp because they no longer met federal nitrogen removal regulations. City residents connected to the city sewer system have seen significant rate increases over the past few years as a result of the loan because it's on them to pay the bill.

The problem is that not enough people are connected to the system - approximately 8,000 are - to defray the costs, Salem said. Another reason for this law is to help increase the sewer system's customer base so that the people on it aren't paying such exorbitant rates.

"We're always playing catch-up when it comes to the sewer treatment facilities," Salem said.

In the Zeyoumas' case, it is estimated that it would cost more than $23,000 for them to connect to the sewer system because the two lots next to them are empty and have been since the family bought the home more than 20 years ago. That means the cost of building the extension from the existing line to their home is all on them. However, if someone does develop the lots next to their home, they would be entitled to a bit of buyback.

It's been said several times by Salem that the Zeyoumas' situation is not the norm. But Council remains reluctant to grant an exception for fear it would set a precedent, prompting more people to ask for exceptions.

City Attorney Carl Cooper said Council could theoretically grant an exception and include details as to why the exception was granted in order to not set a precedent.

"That helps," Cooper said. "But it could still come back to bite the city."

Changing the ordinance, which Council said it wasn't ready to do, is an option, Cooper said.

"That's always possible," Cooper said. "But is the desire there?"

A cost cap may seem like the most logical way to avoid making people pay steep prices to connect to the sewer, especially when the septic system is in working order. But Cooper said cost-based exceptions are usually the least valid. It's difficult to set a one-size-fits-all financial threshold when different people are faced with different economic situations, he asked.

By denying the Zeyoumas' appeal, Council has made a policy statement that it wants people to connect to the sewer system, Cooper said.

With that said, Council could still decide to change the ordinance. If that were to happen, the Zeyoumas and anyone else in a similar situation would be looking at four to six months from the day direction is given to the day the law is changed.

The Zeyoumas plan to propose changing the law and adding a cost cap in the coming weeks.