OSHTEMO TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Since 2013, homeowner Brian Paxson believed that a rumored new sewer system was going to be paid for through a grant.
He said the Oshtemo Township board even sent him and his neighbors on Beech Avenue letters about it in 2018.
“They did not know if it was going to be a grant or a loan,” Paxson said during an interview with FOX 17 Tuesday afternoon. “Everyone has been under the impression it’s going to be a grant and it would be handled under a Special Assessment District as it always was. Therefore the public would have a vote.”
Paxson said he and his neighbors were waiting to participate in a vote. However, it never happened. In October 2019 they received another letter in the mail saying that the new sewer system was scheduled to be installed in late 2020.
“Oshtemo Township has circumvented the ordinary rules where people can vote on whether or not to have a sewer system,” Paxson said while sitting among a handful of his neighbors in his living room. “And now they’re forcing us mandatorily to hook up to it and charge us. My fee is $17,000.”
Paxson said some homeowners felt betrayed. Some of his neighbors' fees were higher than his because they have to consider rerouting costs, the trees and fences in their yards and tearing up their garages and driveways just to install the new sewer system.
“To see some of the people just struggle with that and they’re older, that’s become the big issue,” said neighbor Brenda Waller. “And them not having that internet or the newspaper anymore and that communication. They didn’t know. That’s what’s sad.”
Waller said she’s only lived in the area five years and she looking to sell her home.
However close to 900 homes will be affected by the new sewer system and some of the owners are elderly, especially the ones on Beech Avenue, she said.
If residents can’t afford to pay the fines, then the board offered residents a loan which they can pay over a number of years, the neighbors said.
“There’s no benefit in paying it off all at once. You got to do the loan. Might as well. And, so, that transfers into the cost of selling the house,” said Joe Novara, who’s lived in the area for 33 years. “We’re not kids. We’re not going to be here 40 years later when the mortgage is done. So it’s going to be passed along somewhere in the cost of things.”
Dusty Farmer, who serves as clerk with the board, said they considered costs before moving forward with the sewer system. They searched for years to find a grant or loan that would allow them to do that and the settled with the USDA loan.
“The thing is we got this USDA loan so it can be paid off over 40 years, which is not something they can take advantage of through private lending,” she said during an interview at the Township offices on West Main. “Also the rate that we’ve got it at it’s less than three percent guaranteed.”
Farmer said the board has discussed the new sewer system and costs in meetings since 2011.
She added that the township has committed to paying $250,000 every year for the next 40 years to help pay for the sewer system and to rebuild any roads they tear up.
She said the main reason they decided to go forward with the new sewer system was for health and safety reasons.
“We’re all on ground water and if we don’t protect our groundwater it’s to our own detriment,” Farmer said. “With the report that has comeback from the county that says their estimate is nearly 60 percent of septics are already failing and you just can’t tell because it’s underground. People look for that failure to be above ground or in their homes. That’s a catastrophic failure.”
She said the board wants to tackle the problem now and they’re willing to work with any resident who needs help.
“The problem right now is we’re having a hard time getting people to come in and speak one-on-one with the Public Works Technician or the Treasurer's office,” she said. “And a lot of it has to do with that there are some people who really angry.”
Paxson, Novara and Waller are a few of them.
Waller attended a public meeting Tuesday night where many residents voiced their concerns about the new sewer system.
Over a dozen of residents stood at the podium and spoke directly to the board. All of them said they were against having a new sewer system.
“I don’t think they did their due diligence to look at all of the costs involved,” Waller said. “They’re focused on that project and didn’t look up those hook-up connections. And the taxes just went up. Our water bill just went up. And we haven’t even hooked up with the sewer part yet.”