If a City’s Going Broke, How Can It Fix Everything?

With municipal governments around the nation facing massive budget shortfalls, many have already taken unprecedented steps in cutting traditional services. In Tracy, California, residents now must pay $300 phone charge for any 911 call they make or pay a $48 dollar yearly fee for the “unlimited” 911 plan. The change has drawn the ire not only of local citizens, but people across the country, perhaps fearful of what their own local governments may do to cut costs.

On the surface, residents of St. Tammany parish who rely on a dependable 911 system, may not see things quite as badly. According to a recent Times-Picayune article by Jeff Adelson, the local government recently spent $85,000 for installation of a 911 photo system designed to aid first responders arriving at the scene of an emergency. If national trends are any indication, however, local city and county governments throughout Louisiana will eventually face difficult decisions when trying to decide which services to improve and which services to scale back.

While not explicitly contributing to budget shortfalls, a recent delay in services helped cause one Covington homeowner untold frustration and possible property damage after the leftover problems from broken sewer elements went unattended for nearly six months. As Benjamin Alexandar-Blotch reports in his article from March 5 of this year:

Leslie Watson, 31, first noticed the broken culvert in front of her property on West 9th Avenue in November 2008, and she gave the public works department a call. (I)n July (she) got back in touch with public works to remind them of the issue. In August, officials responded to her request and fixed the culvert under the street.

But, after digging up the road to fix it, public works never returned to repave it, leaving her a gravel section of roadway with large potholes. Watson called public works and was told they’d come to repave her street within two weeks. But, when nothing occurred, Watson says she called back again and again over the next several months, and was given several excuses, such as they were understaffed or the weather was not right.

“My front yard is a swamp pit,” Watson said. “I spent a lot of money to build my house, and now I have to park down the street and walk home in pitch dark, and I can’t do any landscaping, all because public works cannot repair one section of 9th Avenue.”

According to the article, Mayor Candace Watkins and other city officials blame an outdated system that utilized a rotating schedule and have assured residents that future problems of this nature will not occur. While there is no direct information linking this particular issue with budget shortfalls in Covington, mounting budget pressures in all municipalities, tweaks and adjustments to new organizational systems, and even honest mistakes may eventually cause more problems for homeowners in the future. So what is a homeowner to do?

Many insurance plans cover various property damage like that caused by broken pipes. But if the City’s inability to address the problem directly or even indirectly causes the damage, the property owner may have more difficulty in immediate recovery. The insurance company may require proof from the proper authorities that the break was within the responsibility of the City and falls appropriately within coverage of the homeowner’s insurance policy. Any breakdown in communication between the homeowner, the insurance company, and the city may delay this process and jeopardize a homeowner’s claim.

Furthermore, not all sewer breaks occur at the point in the lines where the city must take responsibility. If a break or leak occurs along the line of pipe from the main line to the property, homeowners must take responsibility as mandated in Covington City Ordinance 98-72(a) which states in pertinent part:

All residential and commercial property owners shall be required to repair, within 60 days of notice by certified mail, any and all breakages in their sewer lines extending from the individual structure to the central sewer system for the city.

This process requires the city to notify the homeowner via certified mail of the particular break. But there is no time requirement for the city to notify the homeowner. Between the time a City assesses a sewer break and the time it gives proper notification, a homeowner may have already fixed the problem, only to learn it was the responsibility of the City. Other problems may arise when trying to determine just what type of problems a particular insurance policy will cover or when it is not clear exactly what caused the sewage issue.

If you are having issues regarding your local municipality taking the proper measures to address damage to your property or other issues relating to your homeowner’s insurance, contact the Berniard Law Firm Toll Free at 1-866-574-8005. Attorney’s specializing in insurance policies and property damage caused by a variety of factors are available to help you secure the financial support entitled to you.

To see the complete listing of City Ordinances for Covington, click here. Search the chapters in the menu on the left-hand side of the screen in order to view a particular ordinance.

For City Ordinances and Codes in other municipalities, visit your local city or county website. A partial list of city and parish websites can be found here.