Q&A: What’s Up with the Sewer?

Mayor Curtis released a statement recently in which she said, “When I came into office only 3% of our sewer system had been inspected, cleaned and repaired. We must have our entire city sewer inspected, cleaned and repaired, 100% within the next few years or face serious fines.”

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Someone asked me about that and how it relates to our decision to contract services for garbage, recycling, and yard waste.  So here’s what I know:

Shortly after I took office, I met with our City Department Heads to learn more about their departments.  I was most surprised by what I found visiting our Public Works Department and speaking to the Interim Director and employees. Amongst other things, I learned that only 3% of our sewer system had been inspected, cleaned, and repaired. In large part, this is because our Public Works Department is seriously under-resourced.  They lack both equipment and personnel to do this critical work.

This is simply unacceptable.  We have 96 miles of sewer and signed agreements with the EPA, DHEC, and ReWa to do regular sewer maintenance. We can have only 2 reportable sewer overflows per year to avoid getting into trouble with the EPA (again) and incurring large fines. We also are required to get 100% of the sewer inspected, cleaned, and repaired in the next few years.  And remember: we are at 3% (maybe just a bit more right now).  Something had to change.  This was one of many factors that contributed to our decision to privatize some of our sanitation services.  Doing so opens up resources for other areas within the Public Works department, such as  these necessary (and urgent) sewer repairs.

In addition to the sewer work, we have 75 miles of streets and 25 miles of sidewalk to maintain. We also have more than 1,000 storm water catch basins to maintain.  All of this work has been neglected over the last several years.  Without the change to garbage, recycling, and yard waste collection, we would need at minimum an additional 5 new employees in order to not adversely impact our street and critical sewer maintenance work. That cost would be about $45,000 per employee, which would be approximately $250,000/year.  That’s on top of the equipment costs we previously discussed that we need to spend to get the garbage, recycling, and yard waste resources up to par. At bare minimum, this year, we could get away with maybe about $640,000 in equipment expenditures. That’s knocking on the door of $900,000 total. This year alone. Even with a tax increase at the maximum level allowed by state law, we wouldn’t have been able to do it.

When people ask why we’re not decreasing taxes if we’re saving money in sanitation, the answer is this: we’re not saving money just to save money.  We’re saving money to a purpose: to do what we need to do for this city, to address critical needs (like the urgent sewer work) to keep it running.

As we move forward, we need fiscally responsible long-term planning for sustainable quality services in Simpsonville.  That’s what this Council is working towards, one step at a time.