During my 27-year tenure as an elected Mayor and Councilmember, one of the best decisions I made was to support our city partnering with the National League of Cities Service Line Warranty Program. As an older city with an aging infrastructure, our citizens were constantly calling City Hall when they had a sewer backup or a water leak and often, we were unable to help them because it was on their side of the line. We often saw senior citizens or struggling young families and knew that fixing their service lines was going to put a real strain on their limited budgets.
We asked our City Manager and Department Heads to see if there was some way to help our citizens solve this difficult problem. After much research and discussion, they presented the city council with the results of their study. They gave us several options and we looked at the cost and the impact on our citizens before we decided. One option was to take over responsibility for the service lines and fund the repairs out of the city budget. Unfortunately, this was the costliest option and would have increased water and sewer rates for all residents of the city. It was also the most difficult to administer and would be unfair to the owners of newer houses or those who had just paid to replace an aging line.
We then looked at doing an educational campaign to alert the citizens that they were responsible for taking care of their service lines and that they should factor this into their budgeting since the city would not shoulder any of the costs. We discussed this option with several citizen groups, and they were adamant that the city should offer some type of solution rather than just informing the citizens of their responsibility. Several citizens pointed out that it would be impossible for senior citizens and lower income residents to save enough money to cover the high cost of service line repairs.
About this time, the National League of Cities had announced a new program to deal with failing service lines. The program provided, at no cost to the city, an educational mailer that went to each homeowner in the city, explaining what a service line is and the homeowner’s responsibility for these lines. It also offered an optional warranty program to cover these repairs for a small monthly fee. Residents of newly built homes or those who recently replaced a service line would not have to purchase a warranty unless they wanted this additional protection and senior citizens and others could budget the monthly warranty cost into their house expenses and not face a catastrophic hit to their budget.
We decided to sign up for this new program and see if it could be an answer to our problem with failing service lines. Like any new program, there were a lot of questions from our citizens, with the biggest one being that a lot of residents had no idea that they were responsible for their water and sewer service lines. We did our best and worked to answer all our citizen’s questions and rolled out the program. After the initial mailing, hundreds of our citizens enrolled in the program and the number has steadily grown over the past ten years. During that time, the National League of Cities Service Line Warranty Program has repaired or replaced hundreds of service lines saving our citizens tens of thousands of dollars.
We also noticed a reduction in calls to City Hall from residents who are experiencing problems with their water and sewer lines. Additionally, the local plumbers who work with the program have gained a new stream of income, thanks to the commitment from the program to use local plumbers. All in all, the National League of Cities Service Line Warranty Program has been one of the best decisions I made as a city official.
Jim Hunt is a former Mayor and Councilmember for over 27 years and served as President of the National League of Cities. He was selected as “Municipal Leader of the Year” by American City & County Magazine and is a member of the West Virginia Municipal League’s “Hall of Fame”. He writes extensively on city issues and is the author of “The Amazing City-7 Steps to Creating an Amazing City”. He currently serves as an Advisor to the National League of Cities Service Line Warranty Program.