For years, homeowners in the Whitehall Forest East condominiums off Bouldercrest Road have had unpaid water and sewer bills that have reached approximately $300,000.
Aging pipes and undetected leaks have led to a crisis at the condominiums, built in 1973. The complex’s 108 units are 65-75 percent occupied, according to Corey Turner, president of the homeowners association at the complex.
Now the complex is paying off the bill at a rate of $3,000-$4,000 each month, Turner said.
At $4,000-$5000 monthly, the sewer part of the bill was “ridiculous,” Turner said. “The water consumption is only $2,500-$3,000 per month.”
The total could come in at $6,500-$8,500, Turner said.
“That’s impossible for a homeowners’ association to pay, no matter what the dues were,” Turner said.
To help with the problem at Whitehall Forest and similar situations around the county, the Board of Commissioners is considering allowing special tax districts to help upgrade private water and sewer systems.
Turner said the ordinance would benefit the entire community, which is heavily populated with retired seniors on fixed incomes.
“It takes the burden off the homeowners association and homeowners from trying to pay one large bill that’s extremely, extremely high,” Turner said. “Each unit is going to have a water bill of its own.”
If passed, “we will never have a large bill that would sink us,” Turner said.
Under the plan, each unit would get a water meter installed and the cost for the system upgrade would go the homeowners, but would be spread over a 10-year period.
“We really need this special district,” Turner said. “We have to deal with the situation. There are a lot of communities going through the [same] problem.”
DeKalb County Commissioner Lee May said, “We have some older communities…with aging infrastructure and they’re just homeowners who are just trying to make do and they can’t take on the full brunt of the up-front money to do the upgrades needed for the system.”
“As a result, they are having leak after leak after leak and their water bills are through the roof,” May said. “This is going to be a good tool in our toolbelt to help citizens who are having these issues around the county.”
Turner said his community has been working for years to address the problem of the aging infrastructure.
“We have paperwork saying that the sewer, water and road were dedicated to DeKalb County in 1973,” Turner said. The county “should have been maintaining the sewer, streets and water systems all along, but over the years we have had to struggle and maintain it ourselves.”
In a June 4 email to the homeowners’ association, a DeKalb official said the county would pay to fix some of the problems at the complex.
The county’s Department of Watershed Management “is responsible for maintaining the water main serving your condominiums,” stated watershed director Joe Basista in the email. “Should a future project be implemented within the guidelines of the special tax district legislation…[the county] will be responsible for 100 percent of the costs associated with replacing the water main.”
Under the plan outlined by Basista, property owners will be responsible for 50 percent of the total costs of the replacement of the private water service lines from the main to the individual meters, with a maximum participation of $7,500 per property owner.
Property owners would be responsible for the repairs and replacement of the private service line from each meter to their unit, Basista said.
The Board of Commissioners is expected to take up the ordinance in July.