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County mulls taking up more costs of sewer switch

LAWRENCEVILLE -"Cheap neighbors" may no longer stand in the way of efforts to relieve Gwinnett County's septic tank burden.

A few years since the county began sharing costs with people who want to extend sewer lines to their neighborhoods, officials are considering paying a greater share of the cost in hopes of shutting down more failing septic tanks.

The proposal, which already passed the Water and Sewerage Authority and will come before the Board of Commissioners later this month, would have the Department of Public Utilities pay two-thirds of the cost for extending the sewer lines.

The current method has the homeowner pay the first $5,000 cost. The county pays the second $5,000 and if the project costs more than that, the cost is split 50-50.

So for a project that costs $9,000 per lot connecting to the sewer, the homeowner would pay $5,000 under the current system, but $3,000 under the new one.

The county currently offers a 20-year loan to pay back the cost. The proposal reduces that to 10 years, DPU Director Frank Stephens said. So for many projects the monthly cost would be similar, but Stephens is hoping the bottom line will attract more people to the program.

Since the county began sharing costs several years ago, five neighborhoods have reached construction.

In the two that are complete, Stephens said the actual bid amount came in at substantially more than the price quoted to the neighborhood, so those people ended up only paying about one-third of the actual cost. The other three haven't reached the point where the price-share agreement is drawn up, so Stephens said they could fall under the new program.

But for most of the 164 inquiries where neighbors expressed an interest in switching to sewer, the high cost drove people away.

"I have cheap neighbors that won't pay the money," James Echols said of his 35-year-old neighborhood, Riverview Estates in Duluth.

"We're dumping raw sewage into the Chattahoochee everyday it rains."

Echols needed 70 percent of the owners in the 160-lot subdivision to sign the petition, but he was only able to get half of them to agree.

He said it cost him $8,000 to redo his septic tank recently, and other neighbors are having a hard time selling their houses because of the tanks.

"Everybody would benefit from this," he said. "I can't seem to get this across to our cheapskate neighbors."

John Tyndall never even got around to asking his neighbors if they would pay the hefty price it would take to get his neighborhood on sewer.

After he moved into his house in Gates Mill subdivision outside Lawrenceville in 2000, Tyndall spent $5,000 for a new septic tank plus $3,000 to replace his grass. He said the system is already failing again. He pumps out the system every two months at a cost of $300 each.

"I know I'm not the only one," he said. "I want to take care of it permanently. We need a better solution."

Stephens hopes the new cost-sharing method will be the answer.

"I have a lot of empathy for the people who tried to get it started but couldn't get the signatures," he said. "It's a good deal less now."