South SR Utilities discusses septic tank conversions

Posted on October 15, 2015 by Mat Pellegrino

At the Monday South Santa Rosa Utility System meeting at Gulf Breeze City Hall, dust was blown off a topic that hasn’t been brought up in several years.

Septic tank conversions outside of the city limits sparked a second glance from SSRUS chairman Tom Naile, who recently came across the study, which was done back in the early 1990s.

“The chairman wanted to bring up that study for potentially doing it outside of the city limits,” said Assistant Director of the South Santa Rosa Utility System Thomas Lambert. “The city has already done it (septic tank conversions) inside the city limits in the early 90s.”

This study, done by a planning committee, looked at the costs of converting dozens of homes outside of the city limits to sewer. The study showed that if the city were to convert a home outside of the city limits to SSRUS sewer, it would fall in the ball park range of $15,000 per home.

“That all depends on how far away you are, what the terrain is like. Generally we see most places go anywhere from $12,000 to $17,000 per house,” Lambert said.

Otto Prochaska, who served on the committee back in the 90s and currently serves as a SSRUS board member, told those gathered at Monday’s meeting that a lot has changed within the last few decades.

“This committee was formed because we were having a lot of septic tank issues (at the time). We spent quite a bit of time with that committee,” Prochaska said. “We found that if we fi xed the areas where the (septic tank) problems were, we would fi x the sewer problems.”

Despite the steep upfront costs, the city could potentially get back that money down the line, and then some, according to Lambert. Prochaska said that the estimated costs to convert homes to sewer might have gone up tremendously since the study.

“The areas we looked at to be identifi ed at the time were actually the areas they are looking at now that have groundwater issues and so forth,” Prochaska said. “ It’s a non issue right now is my understanding. A lot of that cost (associated with the conversion) is electrical wiring, pumps, etc. If you have gravity issues, you can double that cost.”

Lambert said it’s up to the homeowner to decide whether they want to be on city sewer or septic tank. Even with money in hand from the city for the conversions, homeowners would have to agree to have the conversion done. Septic tank users do not have to pay utility service providers any money. However, sewer customers have to pay for sewer services, much like they have to pay for water services.

Last year, the city applied for a CDBG grant to help fund sewer hook ups for 57 homes in the city limits that were on septic, in an eff ort to convert them over to a city sewer line.

Unfortunately, the city was not awarded the grant.

“We tried to get that project done three times, and we were denied all three times,” Lambert said about acquiring grant money for the project.

The areas the city eyed at getting the conversions done if they had been awarded the CDBG grant was a portion of San Carlos Avenue from Fairpoint Drive to just east of Hampton Street, Hampton Street between San Carlos Avenue Gilmore Drive and a portion of Gilmore Drive east of Hampton Street.

The cost of the project was originally estimated to cost upwards of $700,000 and would have provided 3,070 lineal feet of 8-inch gravity sewer and 1,360 lineal feet of 4-inch force main.

Naile brought up the study done in the 90s at the meeting to see if it was a possibility for the SSRUS board to look at the issue again.

“The issue was thrown around for about a year (back in the 90s). They looked at septic tank failure documentation and lots of other issues,” Lambert said. “They (ultimately) came to a conclusion that there was no driving need to convert the homes to sewer.”

Lambert said there are a number of issues that lead utility service providers to eye septic conversions.

“For some people it’s an environmental issue,” Lambert said. “Yes, a sewer is better environmentally…and yes, we would have more customers.”

Lambert said that if septic tank conversions were to take place, it would save the city money, and potentially save its customers money.

“The city would make more money, but everybody saves money when you have more customers. It doesn’t matter if I have ten or 5,000 customers,” Lambert said.

The discussion came on the heels of the city unanimously approving a 3 percent surcharge and 4.1 percent rate increase on water and sewage bills for SSRUS customers living outside of the Gulf Breeze city limits.

At Wednesdays Executive Committee meeting, city council talked about proposing a 2.5 percent increase to its Municipal Public Service Tax. The council said the proposed tax increase would only affect city residents. If approved at a future city council meeting, the increase could generate an additional $200,000 or more for the city per year, which council said was needed in order to repave and work on city roadways.