By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Owners of twenty estate homes in the Greenbrook Manor subdivision, located in the Village of River Hills, recently learned they might have to pay a $11,404 special tax assessment to the city, to pay for a new sewer lift pump.
No, Greenbrook Manor is not a planned community, and there’s no homeowners’ association (HOA).
Although homeowners obtain their water supply from private wells, the Village of River Hills operates a public sanitary sewage treatment plant for its sparse population of 1,600 residents.
About River Hills, WI
The formerly agricultural town is located 12 miles north of Milwaukee, near Lake Michigan. According to Census Data, median household income was nearly $159,000 in 2016.
Most of the stately homes in the Village are situated on 5-acre or larger lots. Curren home listings are priced between $599,000 and $1 million.
Homeowners enjoy their expansive views and quiet way of life, and they can well afford to pay for their privacy.
Village Commissioners, on the other hand, would like to see their town grow. They’re quite open to offers from real estate developers, so they can increase the tax base of their sleepy little bedroom community.
However, homeowners have opposed several aggressive commercial and multifamily development proposals by the Mandel Group in 2016 and 2017. The orginial plans might have increased the town’s population by 25%.
Homeowners didn’t like the idea of such rapid growth in their Village.
In response to backlash from residents of River Hills, The Mandel Group recently applied for approval of a scaled-down development plan.
The new plan calls for 154 luxury rental apartments clustered in several three-story buildings, targeted to older adults and retirees who wish to remain in River Hills.
The sewer pump controversy
Meanwhile, the Village is dealing with aging infrastructure, including the town’s sewage treatment system.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Greenbrook Manor was developed in the 1980s. At the time of new construction, homeowners were assessed substantial fees to hook up to the Village’s sanitary sewer system.
Because of its relatively low elevation, Greenbrook Manor requires a sewer lift pump to move wastewater uphill toward the Village treatment plant. That’s not an uncommon circumstance for any sewer treatment utility — public or private.
Recently, the Village had to replace the 40-year-old sewer lift pump that serves Greenbrook Manor, at a cost of $228,000.
Some of the Village Commissioners believe that the entire cost of the new pump should be paid by homeowners of 20 homes. They argue that Greenbrook Manor homeowners most directly “benefit” from the new pump.
But Greenbrook Manor homeowners point out that they do not have a private neighborhood sewage treatment facility. The small subdivision has no homeowner’s association and no private amanities.
And homeowners in the neighborhood have been paying property taxes and sewage utility fees to the Village of River Hills for more than 4 decades.
Not surprisingly, many taxpaying homeowners think the cost of the new sewer pump should be shared by all property owners in the Village, since all of them also benefit from publicly provided sewage treatment.
Whatever happened to public services?
Opponents of the $11,404 special assessment (sewage fee) say that every Village resident pays at least some of their tax dollars toward services that don’t directly benefit them.
Yep. That’s a valid point.
Every city, town, or county has its share of residents with children in school, retired adults, or young adults. Each household has its own needs and preferences.
And, at any given time, few households in a city use every single local service consistently.
Yet everyone pays property taxes, sales taxes, and income taxes to support things like public schools and libraries, parks and pools, maintenance of public roads and bridges, and law enforcement and public safety.
For generations, Americans have understood the intrinsic value of public services for themselves and their neighbors.
Why is the Village of River Hills proposing to treat Greenbrook Manor as if it were a 20-parcel HOA, responsible for providing its own private sewer services?
Could it be that local government leaders now think only in terms of shifting services from the public to the private sector? (Or, in this case, a very limited public sector of twenty property owners.)
Or maybe this move is the Village’s payback for homeowner opposition to Mandel’s overly-ambitious development proposal?
Say it isn’t so.
Splitting the bill or splitting hairs?
It’s safe to assume that, over the past few decades, homeowners in Greenbrook Manor have been paying their fair share to replace sewage pumps and sewer lines serving other residents of the Village.
What makes this situation any different?
News flash: as sewage treatment system infrastructure continues to age, the Village must plan for replacement of all of the components sooner or later.
Do Commissioners plan to divvy up the cost of each replacement pump and sewer main to the exact number of homes served? If so, what a colossal headache that will be. And what a waste of time.
What purpose is served by splitting the bill in this fashion? Perhaps River Hills Commissioners also insist on separate checks at their local eatery or coffee shop.
Use some common sense. By the time the Village is done replacing parts and pieces of their aging sewage treatment system, everyone will end up paying their share anyway.
My hunch is that homeowners in the Village of River Hills can easily afford to pay a few more dollars for ongoing sewage treatment services and upgrades. That includes the recent replacement of a $228,000 sewer pump.
Better to each utility customer to pay a few dollars more over time, than to hit homeowners with huge special assessments, one small neighborhood at a time.
Isn’t that the concept behind public services?
(Note, the Village will meet on November 14, 2018, to discuss and possibly vote on the special assessment.)
Homeowners facing $11,000 bill for new sewer pump
By: Mark McPherson
Posted: Oct 22, 2018 9:16 PM CDT
RIVER HILLS (CBS 58) – A group of homeowners in River Hills were surprised after getting a notice that they could be responsible for an $11,404 bill from the village.
But not everyone got the bill, just one neighborhood.
The money would cover a new sewer pump lift station at the corner of Lodgewood Court and Manor Lane.
The village says the pump is necessary, but it only services about 20 homes.
Village leaders are trying to decide if it’s fair to charge everyone for something that only a few people use.
“My first reaction was shock cause it’s a lot of money,” said Anna Marie Lieske.
But not everyone agrees. We talked to a homeowner who didn’t want to go on camera who said the decision doesn’t make sense.
They say they’re not in an association that has special benefits. They also say everyone in the village pays taxes for things they don’t use, this pump shouldn’t be any different.
Read more (video):
River Hills residents shocked by $11,000 assessment for new sewer pump lift station
Jeff Rumage, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Published 4:45 p.m. CT Oct. 19, 2018
RIVER HILLS – Twenty homeowners may have been shocked when they received letters in the mail informing them they would each be billed $11,404 for a new sewer pump lift station serving their subdivision.
The lift station is in the middle of the Greenbrook Manor subdivision, which is just north of Brown Deer Road, at the corner of Manor Lane and Lodgewood Court.
The lift station is necessary to transport sewage uphill to the public sewer line on Manor Lane. Because the lift station needs replacement after nearly 40 years of operation, the village has borrowed $228,080 to replace it.
The village has legal authority under state statues to impose special assessments for improvements that benefit specific properties. The village maintains the residents should be assessed for the lift tower, because it serves only 20 residents.
Trustee Willard Walker said he sympathizes with the affected residents, but said it would not be fair to other taxpayers in the village to pay for the lift station.
“Which is more fair,” he asked. “To assess the people whose property benefits from it? Or make people pay for it when they derive no benefit?”
Several homeowners felt the village board would be moving too fast in approving the special assessment so soon after hearing comments from the public. In a 4-2 vote, the village board agreed to postpone its decision until the next meeting on Nov. 14.