OKEECHOBEE — The Okeechobee City Council discussed mandatory sewer hookups in the city during its Feb. 22 meeting.
City Administrator Gary Ritter told the council there is no ordinance requiring city residents to hook up to sewer unless they are within 100 feet of an OUA hookup. “Very few homes in our area would meet the criteria anyway.” He also mentioned the city might not have the authority to require this, but it might be under OUA’s jurisdiction. He said the city council would need to decide if and how the city would want to support the effort if OUA chose to require hookup to sewer.
City Attorney John Fumero said there is a state statute that allows utilities to require hookups and asked what authority they needed they did not already have.
Steve Nelson spoke on behalf of OUA and said they do not have the authority to require residents to hook up. “With all the money and grants we have received, we find ourselves in a position where if there is not a mandatory hookup, we may have to pay all those dollars back. The suggestion we had today at our meeting was that you folks get with the county and find out what their ordinance would be so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.” He said the mandatory order would have to come from the city rather than from OUA itself. “We don’t have the power to enforce anything whatsoever.”
The mayor explained OUA might have the power to require hookup but has no way to enforce it. If the city requires it, they can enforce it through code enforcement. He said he understood the county is already using code enforcement to enforce theirs. He also read the state statute and said it required hookup within a year of availability.
Tommy Clay, an OUA board member, said in Moore Haven, they have about 85% hookup now, and they went street by street. Once it was available on your street, you had 90 days to hookup.
Councilman Noel Chandler expressed concern for people in the city who could not afford the thousands of dollars it would take to hookup. He asked if it would be possible to help with the costs.
OUA Executive Director John Hayford said they would need to be sure it was mandatory before they could offer help with this. They do have money set aside to help with the connection from the house to the street. They still need to set up a policy for this. He said block grants would be another possibility. They have used these in the past to hookup homes up at no cost to the homeowner.
Councilmembers Chandler and Clark said they wanted to be sure there was a contingency plan to help families who have financial hardship.
One of the OUA board members mentioned a new septic tank can cost up to $15,000, and the cost to hookup to city sewer is nowhere near that.
The council agreed to instruct the attorney to overhaul their ordinance. He will work with OUA, the county and the city administrator and bring it back to the council at a later date.