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Orchard City deals with water service issues

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The Orchard City Town Board has dealt with several one-of-a-kind customer service issues recently.

The problems the town has encountered with meeting water customer requests have different causes. One involves the 17-lot La Habra II subdivision; a failed development proposal that dates back to the 1970s.

A second issue involves a lot located in a different subdivision that has a water tap problem which trustees said were not fully disclosed to the buyer before a sale on the parcel closed.

A third issue involves a private water line serving a single outside customer.

According to the town trustee's discussion held at a December work session, the La Habra II subdivision was the result of a development plan in the late 1970s when the town did not have a planning department of its own. Therefore, La Habra II was platted according to county subdivision regulations in effect at the time. The subdivision's 17 lots have never been developed. There are no road improvements and domestic water service main lines to the subdivision are considered by town officials to be inadequate to serve a subdivision of 17 lots.

Ten of the 17 lots have had water taps purchased and assigned to them, but the water taps have not actually been installed. The purchase of yet uninstalled water taps are referred to as "speculative taps" because they were bought on speculation for future use. The speculative taps were bought in 2004 just before the cost of town water taps increased from $4,000 to the current $9,000.

The subdivision development ran into problems and was never completed. During the intervening years, some individual lots have been acquired through tax lien auctions. The owner of one lot, acquired for a few hundred dollars through tax lien auction, has now approached the town wanting a physical water tap installed on his lot.

Per town regulations, speculation taps that have not been installed are still required to pay the monthly minimum water charge or they are forfeited. The tap in question has paid the monthly fee of $18, according to staff. The issue is whether the town now has an obligation to serve domestic water to the lot since the monthly fees have been paid all along.

As the trustees talked through the issue they studied a plat of the subdivision relative to town water services. They concluded that it will require a lengthy and expensive section of main water line to provide service to the one tap according to town practice.

According to trustees, after the municipal election in 2008 and the change of administrations from Tom Huerkamp to Don Suppes as mayor, the town took action on La Habra II and adopted a policy on its development. At the work session, staff said the new policy was intended to resolve, from the town's perspective, issues that had been created by a county approved subdivision within the town limits and that came into being without much town oversight.

The policy adopted at that time was that no water service would be provided to the lots in La Habra II until roads and a main water service line were installed, either by a developer or by the lot owners themselves.

The consensus at the work session was that the policy adopted in 2008 applies to the situation, meaning that installation of a single water tap could turn out to be very expensive for a single lot owner.

A second water service issue encountered by town board members was discussed at their regular meeting on Dec. 14.

The issue involves the purchaser of a subdivision lot which has a water tap, but it is physically located on a different lot in the subdivision.

The buyer of the lot discovered the problem only after making the purchase. Mayor Ken Volgamore called the situation one of "buyer beware." Other trustees agreed that the buyer should have been more fully informed of the situation by the agent who handled the sale.

Staff reported that the buyer of the lot has written a letter to the town that was critical of the "town planning commission" for allowing the situation to exist. Installation of a water tap on the lot will be particularly expensive including a possible bore underneath a road, according to the trustees' discussion.

Neither the lot with the water tap nor the one just purchased is currently developed. It was stated at the town board meeting that the owners of the lot with the water tap do not want to negotiate or work out a settlement with the other lot owner over the problem.

Trustees discussed various options including paying part of the cost of materials for installing a tap and meter on the lot that does not have one.

Also during their December regular meeting, the town board discussed a third water service situation unique to Orchard City's sprawling domestic system. It involves a single town water customer whose outside-of-town home is exclusively served by his private water service line

The owner of the water line wants the town to declare a public easement where it crosses public lands for a distance of approximately one-half mile. The man hopes having a public easement declared for the line will prevent the federal government from sending him a bill every year for having his private water line traverse public lands.

Trustees were not agreeable to the offer. They worried that declaring any such easement would mean the town would be taking an ownership interest in the line itself and become responsible for repairs. In addition, trustees said there would be no benefit to the town or its other water customers in declaring the easement for the private water line.

Trustees decided by consensus that they would not grant the water line owner's request.

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