Part 3 AlamogordoTownNews.com Special Report - Why do homeowners have to pay for repairs to sewer connections that are in the city street?

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And yet another homeowner falls victim to the city of Alamogordo...

The damages from the McKinley Channel Project continue and yet another homeowner on McKinley street was forced to chalk up $3,500.00 for a repair to the city street for a cracked sewer line connection.

In prior reporting we reported the city of Alamogordo only formally recognizes that there were just a few sewer line repairs in the city streets per year and that this is according to one commission member, "a non-issue."  Well tell that to the homeowner on McKinley Avenue this last week that forked out over $3500.00 to repair the broken sewer line connection joining the other 7 homeowners on the same street that has been faced with repairs in the last 6 months.

When the AlamogordoTownNews.com did a public records act request to the city of Alamogordo their response was that this is not a major issue and they show that only  a few repairs go through the formal process with the city each year....

May 29th, 2021 we ran a story in the AlamogordoTownNew.com site expressing concern with damage being perpetuated onto homeowners in the McKinley Channel construction area and the city's failure to recognize an issue.

Bobby Smith of McKinley street asked the AlamogordoTownNews.com staff to reach out to the city elders and see if something could be done to stop the damage. What was happening, is Payte Construction Company was running heavy equipment onto McKinley Avenue and other close roads. That equipment exceeded the allowable weight thresholds for residential neighborhoods and the result was the weight and the vibrations were causing aged sewer lines to break at the connection point.

The connection point and its location is the rub with the city. Per city code if a water line from breaks from the house, the homeowner is responsible from the meter which is by the sidewalk and back to the home, the city is responsible from the meter which is at the sidewalk and on into the street.

That however is NOT the case for a sewer line break. For a sewer break the homeowner is hosed, so to speak. The damage is to be paid by the homeowner at the connection point which is in middle of the city street in most cases for sewer lines unlike water lines. The result is the homeowner is responsible for a sewer line break, sidewalk repair and street repair even if the fault is not their own.

The situation.

The construction company damaged the road. In a period of a month 6 homeowners had to have repairs. In Mr. Smith's place Payte Construction accepted responsibility and paid for the repairs but it did not pay for every homeowners damage in the area of McKinley and surrounding streets. Mr. Smith's complaint with the city commissioner however was not who would pay for it. His complaint was what happens to the multiple homeowners around Alamogordo that cannot afford these repairs and are intimated into paying them under a threat of city code?

The issue at hand however is much bigger than the issue of Payte Construction and the McKinley Channel area. In interviewing homeowners, all over the city, there are many that have had to pay for the street repair tied to damages to older sewer pipe connections. These expenses can range upward to $5,000, a burden many retired homeowners cannot afford. If the city is forced to repair the issue and its not paid for within 30 days the city then places a lien on the home.

Why is all of this a concern?

1.) The city's approach to the issue with the homeowner is inconsistent with the city ordinance and under- represents the issue.

2.) The city should make homeowners aware of this potential risk in expense and it should be a disclosure upon the sale of a home as a risk or the ordinance should be changed.

3.) Homeowners policies should be amended to cover this risk. (The homeowners insurance will not cover anything past the sidewalk as insurance companies view the city street city property) Alamogordo is one of only a handful of cities that place the burden of city street repair of the sewer line on the homeowner. Most cities in the state accept liability past the sidewalk.

4.) The city Commissioners via their silence on this issue do NOT see this as a problem and feel homeowners should just pay, and the ordinance should not be modified per a follow-up discussion she had with homeowner Bobby Smith.

Let's look at each item specific and solutions:

1.) The city's approach to the ordinance is inconsistent in enforcement and in following ordinance protocols. What do we mean by that?

Some would deem the cities approach, as selective enforcement of the ordinance, and some might view the "knock on the door", as, bullying tactics.

What occurs is the city finds a leak or damage to the roadway, potentially from a sewer line is the city works department digs up the city street to expose the issue. The city workers then place a cone around the hole to identify it. The city ordinance reads that the homeowner has 30 days to remedy the damages upon receiving "written notice." Thus there is the rub and possibly why commissioners don't see any issue.

The ordinance reads that the city is to give "written notice of repair," in practice however what happens is a supervisor from the works department by his admission has a dirty job. His job is to go and knock on the door of the homeowner and let them know there is an issue, they need to repair it and failure to do so will result in the city doing it and charging up to $5,000 or more to the home owner.

In the case of Bobby Smith, on McKinley Avenue, the city dug up the hole, the supervisor knocked on the door explained to Mr. Smith there was an issue and it needed to be fixed. At first they told him he could fix it. Note the city worker also mentioned they were notifying 4 homeowners of the same issue on the same street that day. "(Not a fun day.")

Mr. Smith then purchased the boot and equipment to do so. The next day another city employee came by and told him he has 30 days to get it fixed and that it must be done by a licensed contractor and then inspected by the city prior to be covered and the street repaved.

Mr. Smith got estimates that ran as high as $6000 for the repair since it included the city street. One of the contractor who asked to remain anonymous as he didn't want "crap from the city" said, "he felt bad for the community of homeowners as this was a boom time for him in doing these types of repairs and that Alamogordo was the only city he does work in within New Mexico where they make the homeowners pay for the repair portion in the street."

In Mr. Smith's case Payte Construction accepted liability, did the work and Mr. Smith was not out the $6000. How did Payte fix Mr. Smith's repairs? Mr. Smith went back and spoke to a supervisor who admitted they messed up having the heavy trucks on the city streets and weren't doing it much any more.

On McKinley 6 homeowners were faced with needing repairs in a 1 month period of time.

AlamogordoTownNews.com did a Freedom of Information or New Mexico Open Records request for the city of Alamogordo requesting the number of times the city has cited or demanded homeowners fix and pay for sewer repairs and the locations of each for the past 20 years.

We received the list and to our surprise it consisted of just 4 in 2021 and 5 for 2020. Yet if one drives around the city we see many more. Interestingly in doing our survey with the public on their awareness of this issue we encountered significant dialog from many more residence than listed saying they were notified by the city that they must do sewer repairs.

The number of times the City has cited or demanded homeowners fix and pay for sewer repairs and location over the past 20 years is as follows: (16 in total)

Per the public records request emailed to us by the city...

  • "Per our Code Enforcement Department, they informed us that they could not go back 20 years because their department didn’t start addressing sewer issues until 2016, but since then they have notified the following owners of these locations to repair their sewer problems:
  • 1521 Cuba (2021)
  • 1523 Cuba (2021)
  • 1801 ½ N. Florida (2021)
  • 1306 Indian Wells (2021)
  • 2307 Willow (2020)
  • 801 15th (2020)
  • 1314 Hendrix (2 times) (2016)
  • 1611 Dewey (2016)
  • 901 Bakers Pl (2020)
  • 921 Bakers Pl (2020)
  • 2317 Pine (2017)
  • 2318 Pine (2017)
  • 1210 Vermont (2017)
  • 1111 McKinley (2020)

Per our Public Works Department, these homeowners have been notified:

  • 1601 Hawaii (2020)
  • 1307 McKinley (2020)'

Note if you look at the issue year by year there are not many "reported issues" thus the city leadership thinks its a non-issue. McKinley street has had 7 issues in the last 3 months. One would think the city would recognize there is an issue of concern and work to modify the ordinance, take up discussion in a commission meeting and seek public dialog. This is an election year for the municipal election. There are two commissioners going to be elected without opposition and there are 2 possibly 3 candidates for mayor and yet not a single leader has placed this topic on the agenda for discussion. Seven homeowners on McKinley certainly think this is an issue. Multiple homeowners around the city voiced their concern in a poll that was conducted by AlamogordoTownNews.com with several hundred respondents and yet; silence from the commission.

Its election season and the City Commission Should Have Dialog and consider...

A. Implement a policy of disclosure via city ordinance when a home is sold in Alamogordo as part of the home closing process and paperwork. Most major cities require certain disclosures at close of laws that could impact the homeowner, disclosure of mold and wiring concerns, potential lead paint disclosures etc. Along that same vain we suggested the commission implement an ordinance that requires disclosure of the city ordinance at the time of home purchase.

28-02-090. - Maintenance and repair of service lines—Connections A property owner is responsible for the maintenance and repair of service lines connecting his building to the sewage collection system including taps, saddles and wys. A property owner is also responsible for any damage to public property resulting from the failure of such service lines, such failure including, but not limited to, leaks or collapses. Upon failure of a property owner to comply with the provisions hereof, written notice by the building inspector shall be given demanding that maintenance or repair be made within thirty (30) days from the date of such notice. Upon failure to comply with such notice, then and in that event, the city shall have the power and the authority to maintain or repair, the cost and expense of which shall be liened
against any such property.

B.) Change the ordinance so that the responsibilities for repairs extend from the sidewalk back to the property and the city assume responsibility for any repairs in the street.

C.) A fund be created similar to what the cell companies provide that allows residents to pay into at a fee of $10.00 per month as a repair insurance fund, then if an issue occurs they are covered in allowing the city to repair the issue. The expense against the city is zero as the number of claims would be offset by the payments into the self insurance fund and would be a way to mitigate the expense for the homeowner. Similar to cell phone loss insurance plans.

D.) Work with the state insurance commissioner and mandate that the homeowners polices cover the repair even if in the street as is the case for water line damage. Homeowners can get additional coverage for water line damages however there is no option for a homeowner in Alamogordo to get the homeowners insurance to cover the street damage without a formal request being initiated by the commission and the state insurance commissioner.

E.) Repeal the ordinance in whole as written

F.) Do nothing, have no dialog and show a lack of concern for the constituents of which the elected body was elected to represent.

Thus far the commission has chosen to do nothing and show a lack of concern for its citizens.

lamogordoTownNews.com initiated a survey on this issue and the results show that an overwhelming majority of homeowners out of the respondents were not aware of this financial liability imposed upon them by the city. Further the overwhelming majority felt this was a serious issue and that the commission and the city does not do a good job of informing citizens of city ordinances that may impact them financially. The results to the survey follows...

The City Commission is elected to represent you. When issues of concern, are brought up to commissioners their role is to represent you and to investigate and be your the citizens advocated. When or if a commissioner berates you, speaks down to you or is condensing in their tone to you, make note of it and act upon it with the ballot at election time. Most commissioners are positive individuals that do indeed care about those they are elected to represent. The position of mayor is up for grabs. Get involved and let's get this issue and those of blight, homeless issues and crime and jobs creations into the public realm.

If you don't participate and you don't vote you have no voice at the table and "bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote."

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