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CENTERVILLE IMPOSES TEMPORARY BUILDING BAN

No building will be allowed in areas of Centerville where high groundwater requires the installation of a subsurface drain system while the City Council wrestles with how to handle existing drain systems that are breaking down.

The City Council Tuesday imposed a temporary building moratorium on residential and commercial projects in those areas and at the same time put off for two months action on forming a subsurface drain system special service district.Forming the district to service and repair the existing drains could cost homeowners up to $100 a year, according to preliminary estimates. But the cost figures are still being researched, and the council opted to delay forming the district until they can be nailed down.

Two public hearings on the proposal brought out some opposition to the proposed district but not enough formal objections were filed with the city to block its formation, City Manager David Hales reported Tuesday.

Under state law, if owners of property valued at more than half the total property value of a proposed district, or more than half the property owners file written formal protests, the district cannot be formed.

There are more than 1,850 property owners within the boundaries of the proposed district, and its total assessed valuation is just over $92 million, Hales reported.

Valid objections were filed by 281 owners of property worth $10.3 million, Hales said, falling far short of the 51 percent needed to block the formation. Some protests were invalidated for legal reasons, Hales said, but even if they are added, they still only total 316 owners and 28 percent of the property value.

The drain systems were installed by developers to collect and carry off ground water, allowing them to build homes with basements in areas with a high water table.

The systems are supposed to be maintained by homeowner associations but in most cases the associations have either dissolved over the years for lack of interest or simply not taken on the job of maintaining the drains.

City Engineer Fred Campbell said inspections show most of the drains are plugged with silt and debris, making them unusable. Three to four homes in the city end up with flooded basements every spring because of the failure, Campbell said.

The city originally proposed assessing homeowners within the district up to $100 annually for the entire cost of maintaining and improving the drain system, putting some of the money into a separate fund earmarked for future replacement of failing drains.

That proposal drew strong objections and the council is now looking at dividing the costs, with homeowners paying about half that in system maintenance fees and the city paying for future replacement costs because the central drains are under city streets and, in many cases, dump into the city's storm water runoff system.