By Ginger Jarvis
Greene Publishing, Inc.
Madison residents and businesses now operate under amended rules for protection of the city’s drinking water. After some contentious debate at their regular meeting on Feb. 8, the city commissioners approved changes in three ordinances that control the installation, inspection and maintenance of backflow devices.
City Manager Harold Emrich explained that backflow devices keep sewage and other used water from flowing back into drinking water where lines intersect. He said that most residential properties do not need the devices; rather, they are installed in commercial areas and other areas of heavy usage.
The second public hearing on the amendments had been tabled from January until the February meeting so that Emrich could meet with local plumbers at their request. Representing the plumbers, Carlton Burnette protested the changes, contending that city prices for installing and inspecting the devices would be lower than the fees that plumbers must charge. “Now we are in competition with the city government that can pull money from grants and can stretch payments over several months and then cut off the customer’s water if the bill is not paid,” Burnette said.
Emrich replied that Public Works Supervisor Chuck Hitchcock will inspect devices and notify customers of problems with their devices. “By federal law, the city is responsible for supplying potable water These amendments put the responsibility with the city, not with the owner.” He referenced the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 and said that the state requires municipalities to meet the federal regulations. He said that the ordinances will prevent problems such as customers hiring unlicensed plumbers, plumbers installing inferior or incorrect devices and customers delaying repairs until after contamination has occurred.
Emrich explained, “We are not trying to compete with the private sector. We are trying to accommodate them and still meet our obligations.”
According to the amended ordinances, the city will inspect the devices, will notify the owners of problems that might cause contamination of drinking water and will give the owner a choice of hiring a licensed plumber approved by the city or of having the city do the repair and bill the owner for that service. Concerned that the city might be appearing to appearing to undercut the plumbers’ trade, several commissioners made suggestions to keep the city’s fees in line with those of the private sector. Those decisions will come at a later meeting.
City Attorney Clay Schnitker told the commissioners, “The only changes are that you are shifting the responsibility from the customer to the city. You are trying to protect the integrity of the city water supply.”
Mayor Judy Townsend commented, “It is still the customer’s choice.”
In other business, the board approved the sale of a house at 178 SW Parramore Avenue to Monica West for $10,000. They also agreed that future sales of city-owned property would be open for competitive bidding.
Schnitker reported that the city collected $20,000 in insurance money for the damages to Lanier Field following a fair in the fall of 2010. The board agreed to put off repairs until after the Down Home Days Rodeo in April.