Tryon resident paid town sewer fees without service for more than 20 years

Published 3:13 pm Thursday, February 23, 2012

Town agrees to pay $1,987 in reimbursement
A Tryon resident recently discovered after experiencing backed-up sewage in her home that she had a septic tank and was not hooked into the town’s sewer system.
Lorina Cunningham had been paying monthly sewer fees to Tryon for approximately 21 years.
Council met Tuesday, Feb. 21 and settled with Cunningham for $1,986.89 in reimbursements, an amount equal to the last five years of payments.
Cunningham, who will soon turn 80 years old, lives at 60 Elm Street. She said she does not feel the town paid her what she was owed, but it isn’t worth the fight.
“I think I deserve all I put in it,” Cunningham said. “They expected their money and there were times they cut off my water because I couldn’t pay my bill.”
She said if she hadn’t been paying for sewer, she might have had the money for those water bills.
Averaged out, Cunningham paid approximately $8,400 over the last 21 years for sewer, or approximately $400 per year. State statutes say Cunningham can seek a repayment of two years of billed sewer use. Council settled on reimbursing the last five years of payments and hooked the house up to town sewer, which costs the town $4,011.36, according to town records.
Council members discussed what they felt was the right refund for Cunningham during the meeting.
Mayor Alan Peoples asked if the town should adjust the refund to subtract a normal $845 tap fee for the sewer connection and if the town should pay for Cunningham’s two Roto-Rooter bills. Tryon has a policy for residents with city limits who do have septic tanks that the town pays for maintenance of the tanks, such as emptying the tanks.
Councilman Roy Miller said the town was talking about giving Cunningham back only $1,986 for 20 years.
“I’d say we don’t subtract anything,” Miller said. “We went on a good-faith basis, thinking she was on sewer. I think we do the right thing and give her the five-year total.”
Councilman George Baker said Cunningham paid about $400 per year in sewer charges so the town is giving her another 10 years’ worth by hooking her up to sewer for free.
“We’re giving her another 10 years by giving her sewer (hookup) for free,” Baker said. “I’d say give back $1,986.89 and move on with our lives.”
Baker also said as a homeowner, Cunningham has a little bit of responsibility.
But Cunningham asks how she should have known she had a septic tank.
“They (the town) said I should have known,” said Cunningham. “How would I know? At almost 80 years old what am I going to do – go dig in the yard to see if I have a septic tank? I’m in city limits. I got a bill every month. Why wouldn’t I have water and sewer?”
The septic tank was discovered in December, when Roto-Rooter came to fix a backup. Cunningham’s daughter, Angela Cunningham, said sewage was backed up in the toilet, the bathtub and in the basement. Angela said the septic tank was so full that they couldn’t empty it. It was instead crushed.
She said there was sewage everywhere, including on the side of the house, and described it as like black tar.
“It smells like sewage every time it rains,” Angela Cunningham said.
Council decided it should come up with a policy for similar issues because Cunningham’s situation was not the first time residents have discovered they were not connected to town sewer. Miller mentioned residents of a home on Livingston Street with whom the town settled previously.
Angela Cunningham also said she feels the town has not treated her mother well.
“I feel like my mama deserves every dime she paid in,” Angela said.
Lorina Cunningham said she told the town she would settle for what they offered.
“It’s just not worth the fight,” she said.