A unanimously adopted ordinance will require hundreds of homes to move onto the city’s sewer system, following an update to the municipal code by the Las Cruces City Council.
The Water and Wastewater System Master Plan Update, which has been in development since 2008, includes a prioritization plan to help keep the Las Cruces water supply clean. Preventing water supply contamination from septic tanks was cited as the main reason for the code change.
But the estimated $5,000 initial cost per property, one that homeowners will be responsible for, gave some city council members pause. Councilor Tessa Abeyta-Stuve highlighted the burden placed on homeowners, saying the cost of switching from septic to sewer was a concern among her constituents.
“This was one of the most talked about issues, and cost was brought up,” Abeyta-Stuve said. “For a lot of these families as well, they were in a very middle zone, where they may not qualify for any of the assistance, but they don't necessarily have, or this could be the tipping point for them to have to give these types of costs.”
Prior to the vote, councilors worked to ensure that both grant opportunities and payment plans would be available to homeowners. One proposed program designed to help offset cost is the CDBG Utility Upgrade Assistance Program, which could help provide funding to low-and moderate-income households through grants.
Housing and Neighborhood Services Manager Natalie Green went over how the program will help assist those in need.
“It would fall under the umbrella of our home rehabilitation program, and they have anywhere from $3-500,000 a year to dedicate to home rehabilitation projects,” Green said. “We do operate this similar program with our gas utility for mobile homes. Staff is already planning a big overhaul of the home rehab program as a whole…but we would work with utilities to ensure that we had sufficient budget to cover this portion.”
Assistant Utilities Director Adrienne Widmer reviewed another funding tool, outlining what a five-year payment plan could potentially look like for homeowners.
“Once the project is completed, where they have the one year to actually hook up, if they want, they do the payment plan on the impact fee,” Widmer said. “Then they hire their plumber to do the rest of the work, which just means there's like $2,600-$2,700 that they don't have to fund right away.”
Independent of the payment plan, homeowners will still be responsible for plumbing costs and decommissioning expenses for the original septic tank. Those remaining expenses could potentially be funded by the CDBG Utility Upgrade Assistance Program.
Councilor Johana Bencomo says she will work to make sure homeowners impacted by the ordinance understand the funding options available to them.
“Honestly, just from what I know about community engagement and people being involved in city government, that often folks who are low-income families, they're the ones that potentially are least engaged in city government. And not because of not caring but because there's no time,” Bencomo said. “And then in the areas that I at least know in District Four there may be a lot of actually low-income folks who might not even understand or have access to the information about financial support.”
Those wondering if they will be impacted by the newly adopted ordinance can reach out to the city’s utility department, here.