WEST JORDAN — In response to the recent discovery that the owners of several homes have been unknowingly dumping raw sewage into the Jordan River for more than 20 years, the City Council will consider creating a special fund to help residents pay for such situations.

The council voted 7-0 to instruct city staff to draft a proposed ordinance that would create a no-fault provisional fund that would allow the city to give assistance to residents without taking on liability.

The unanimous vote belied the fact that the council members have differing opinions on the city's proper response to the discovery that the sewage lines from five or six homes around 1500 West and 8600 South were connected to an underground main meant to drain off excess groundwater rather than the sewage main. That main flows, untreated, into the Jordan River by way of a series of ditches, canals and creeks.

"A city provides certain services. You turn on the tap and you expect water to come out of that tap. . . . As a city, we have failed our citizens," Councilman Mike Kellermeyer said, drawing applause from the audience.

That failure, Kellermeyer and the affected residents believe, was on the part of city inspectors. City staff believes the city failed to inspect the hookup of the sewage lines when the homes were built, some in the late 1970s, others in the early '80s.

The mistakes were apparently made by two different developers, both of whom are believed to be out of business now. Because of that, the city should step up and take responsibility, the residents say.

But city attorney Roger Cutler said Utah law specifies that cities cannot be held liable for failure to conduct an inspection or for negligent or inadequate inspections. The state Supreme Court has said that to hold cities responsible for bad inspections would discourage them from carrying out inspections at all.

The problem came to the city's attention when resident Ben Chapman hired workers to fix a sewage line break that had flooded his basement. During that work, the crews discovered the incorrect hookup. Chapman has made a claim to the city, seeking about $10,000 to pay for the repairs and the cleanup of his home.

Because the council's role is legislative, and deciding claims is an administrative duty of the city, the council would have to create a policy giving the city responsibility for inspection failures despite the state-granted immunity. Cutler "strongly urged" the council not to do so.

He said the other option was to create the no-fault fund, which could be created from the sewer fund and would mean higher sewer rates — maybe as low as 2 to 3 cents extra — for residents citywide.

Council members did not give much discussion to their support for or opposition to such a fund, agreeing that the issue should be put before a public hearing on an agenda for a future meeting since it would mean sewer rate increases. No date was set for that hearing or the council's vote.

E-mail: dsmeath@desnews.com