The Aug. 31 deadline for Tamaqua's wildcat sewers to be connected to the main has come and gone, and the majority of the property owners affected have not completed the work.
Borough manager Kevin Steigerwalt gave an accounting of the progress at Tuesday night's council meeting.
"We have 54 connections left to do, which involve 41 properties. Ten connections have been completed and four were removed due to fire and demolition," he said.
This week's gloomy, wet forecast is not going to help the situation either. However, property owner Anna Brose of West Broad Street, brought up another problem facing property owners.
"I have contacted 26 plumbers," said Brose. "Four people have shown up at my house. Only one gave me an estimate."
"Most have said flatly, 'no'," she continued. "We don't want any parts of this puss case. That's what they called it."
Brose said she wants another estimate to compare to the $12,200 one that she has before she proceeds with the work.
Joseph Lopez, another property owner, presented council with a petition signed by approximately 60 residents, requesting that the borough consider taking a loan to reimburse the residents for their costs to connect to the sewer. The petition requested that the borough place the item on the November ballot for voter consideration.
The proposed resolution, which did pass with a vote of 5-2, reads, "Do you favor increasing the indebtedness by the Borough of Tamaqua in an amount not to exceed $500,000 to be used exclusively toward real estate owners relief for cost incurred or to be incurred complying with the PA DEP requirement that real estate parcels be connected to the existing sewer system by Aug. 31, 2011?"
While Lopez was addressing council, he noted several times that he had actually served on the sewer authority while the improvements and expansion projects were being completed in the 1970s, including 17 years as the president of the authority.
Council President Micah Gursky asked him if he was aware that he was not connected to the sewer.
Lopez responded, "Yes."
"You were on the authority that certified that you were hooked up. Why did you do that?" Gursky asked.
Lopez responded that the authority had received the information from Gannett Fleming, the authority's engineers.
"We either received misinformation or they lied to us so we would qualify for the bond fees and the grant. It's not this council's fault, it's not the authority's fault. We were lied to."
Lopez added that he "wanted to hook up." However, he "was told that there was no line on the 300 block of Broad Street."
Lopez also indicated that the borough manager at the time, Donald Matalavage, also knew that properties were not hooked up.
Gursky asked him again, "The engineer certified that you were hooked up and you knew you weren't?"
Lopez responded, "Yes."
Gursky then asked how a member of the sewer authority and the borough manager knew that they weren't hooked up.
"How does that go on for so many years," he asked. "You have a moral and a legal obligation to hook up."
Councilman John Trudich asked Lopez if he had written proof from Gannett Fleming saying that he was hooked up. Lopez told him to look in the records of the sewer authority.
Prior to the vote, Gursky reminded council that while it may "feel good" to vote for the resolution now, eventually, the borough will be required to pay back the money and sewer rates will need to be raised to do that.
"You can't vote for this tonight and then vote against the increases later. Down the line, you're going to have to vote to increase the rates," he said.
Later in the meeting, it was estimated that everyone paying a sewer rate would need to pay $10-12 annually for the life of the loan, if the borough secured a 30-year loan. That amount could be more if the borough can only get a 20- or 25-year loan.
Antonio Rodrigue of South Railroad Street, voiced concern over who would be covered under the resolution.
"I didn't get a letter with a deadline," he said.
Rodrigue's property was listed as "under investigation" in the initial report. He said that he has opted to connect to the sewer so that there is no doubt as to where the sewage from his property is going. Under the resolution, his costs would not be eligible for reimbursement. Additionally, it was discussed that property owners, for example the Calvary Church, that corrected their hook up several years ago, would also not be eligible for reimbursement.
Councilman Brian Connely stressed that this resolution and the referendum on the ballot are not binding for the council.
"At least we can know how the community feels," he said.
Connely, who also serves as the chairman of the sewer authority, said that the authority has discussed other possibilities for funding and completing the work. Councilmen David Mace and Trudich voted against the resolution placing the referendum on the ballot. Councilmen Connely, Gursky, Ken Smulligan, Dan Evans, and Tom Cara voted in favor of placing it on the ballot.