Homeowners on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars to switch from septic tanks to city sewer

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- A handful of Indianapolis homeowners will have to pay tens of thousands of dollars in the next six months to switch from septic tanks to city sewer.

They say the Marion County Health Department is forcing them to do it, despite their septic tanks being well maintained.

Lori Daugherty called the CBS4 Problem Solvers asking for help. She says a couple moved into the area of 71st and Lafayette, near Traders Point Lake. That couple decided to retire their septic. The health department said as long as the individual who is applying for such a permit will hire an engineer to design a line and hire a contractor to install it, the city will approve it. The utility company will then take over.

In this case, the city plans to extend an already existing sewer line down West 71st Street. Once that happens, all homeowners within 100 feet of the line have to hook up to it.

“It’s like buying a car I never get to drive,” homeowner Mervin Yoder said.

“I’m just flabbergasted,” Daugherty said.

The homeowners claim neither the city, county nor the energy company ever notified them that this would be happening. They found out about it and then confirmed that they will will have to pay out-of-pocket and they’ll have to do so within the next six months.

“We’ve been getting estimates and it’s somewhere between $28,000 and $32,000,” Yoder said.

“Our cost, because of the trees and the location of the driveway, is estimated to be between $30,000 and $50,000,” Daugherty said.

The homeowners’ driveways are long, adding to the cost. They also have old trees that will have to be dug up and potentially moved in order for the lateral line to go in. It’s so expensive and sudden that Yoder will have to delay his retirement. The families, which in some cases have kids in school and college, say they will struggle to come up with the extra cash.

“Cost is by far and large the biggest difficulty people have with connecting,” said Jason Ravenscroft with the Marion County Health Department.

He confirmed the case with CBS4.

“I would always recommend people plan for the eventual upgrade of their system whether it’s an extension or septic replacement,” he said.

Ravenscroft said it all goes back to how an old ordinance is written. He said it’s at least 20 years old, but that the county has to be mindful if and when they modify policies like that. He said they won’t do anything on impulse because of this case.

Citizens Energy Group, the company that will take over the line once it’s complete, said hundreds of homes connect to city sewer on an annual basis. They offer a septic tank elimination program, but the residents in this case are not eligible because they are “outside of Citizens' 10-year prioritization plan.”

There are still about 15,000 homes running on a septic tank, which Citizens and the health department plan to convert to city sewers at some point.

CBS4 emailed the district's councilor, Leroy Robinson, but did not hear back.