Sunnyside resident Steve Aberle says he was blindsided last month when he got a $10,000 bill for a future sewer line connection.
According to the Aug. 9 notice from the Department of Public Utilities, Aberle must connect to the sewer system within three years, or the city will cut off his water.
Aberle's home on East Lane Avenue in southeast Fresno, which is in an unincorporated county island, has city water but also has a septic system.
Although he knew the city was installing sewer pipes in the area, Aberle said it never occurred to him that he would be on the hook for the project's cost — especially since he got no notice from the city and no option to opt out.
"I never received prior notice about paying before I received the Aug. 9 order," he said. "If they had told me earlier, at least I could have digested it."
Aberle, a Fresno Unified School District teacher, said he will have to take out a loan with the city to pay the fee.
Under the city's loan program, Aberle would make loan payments every other month over a period of up to 15 years. A lien would remain on his property until the loan is repaid.
Not paying is not an option, he said. "I asked them what they would do if I couldn't pay and they told me in no uncertain terms that my water would be shut off," Aberle said. "This is obviously legal, but it is brutish. It's not really a question of if I am going to pay. I'm going to pay. I have to pay."
He wasn't the only homeowner who was surprised by the city's notice. Fred Lindeman, who also lives on East Lane, learned about it when he received the Aug. 9 notice.
"I haven't paid yet, but I guess I have to," he said.
Patrick Wiemiller, city utilities director, said he didn't know why some of the 30 homeowners in the project area were left in the dark.
Wiemiller said the city provides extensive information and outreach to property owners on projects such as these, but he could not say whether property owners had been told about how much they would owe.
The average total for each property owner is around $10,000 — with $5,000 going to the city and the rest to a private contractor to connect each property to the sewer line.
But Aberle said the notice he received didn't specify any amounts, so he had no idea what he owed or was paying for. In order to get a cost breakdown and estimate, he had to call a city representative.
To receive an itemized bill of the charges, residents had to contact the city and confirm their willingness to pay.
Converting from septic to sewer may pose a financial hardship for property owners, but at the same time there are many benefits.
"Septic systems and cesspools cause rises in nitrate levels in the groundwater. In essence, it is 'fouling the nest,' and if it happens to be a situation where a water well is located, all the more it is the case," Wiemiller said.
Sewer lines enhance property values, improve health and do away with septic costs, he said, and "combine to make this an attractive project for neighborhoods that receive it."
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6183 or email@example.com.