June 12, 2013
(Editor’s Note: In the May 29 Buzz column, “Sewer warranty plan creates confusion,” Northeast News raised concerns over the city’s partnership with a private business that offers water and sewer line warranties. Below is City Council member John Sharp’s response to our Buzz column.)
Every year thousands of Kansas City homeowners are faced with expensive repair bills for their private water and sewer lines that are generally not covered by homeowner’s insurance.
This problem is worse in older neighborhoods, like much of the old Northeast area, due to the prevalence of galvanized water lines and clay sewer pipes, many of which are way past their useful life. Of the private galvanized water lines in the city (which are not as durable as copper lines), a Water Department survey shows 85 percent are more than 80 years old.
To offer homeowners affordable protection for the cost of such repairs, after discussing the matter in two business sessions, the City Council in May of 2012 unanimously authorized the City Manager to investigate and “if he deems appropriate” to participate in the National League of Cities (NLC) Service Line Warranty Program.
This program, offered by 32 states and more than 170 cities, including Atlanta, Las Vegas, Milwaukee, Phoenix, and in the metropolitan area, Edwardsville, Prairie Village and Roeland Park, has an excellent track record of providing high quality customer service according to the staff of the National League of Cities.
Following a city staff investigation of the NLC program and lengthy contract negotiations, the city entered into a contract to participate in the program on Feb. 1, and letters from City Manager Troy Schulte announcing the program were recently mailed to city residents by Service Line Warranties of America, the private company that administers the program for the NLC.
Under the program, homeowners can sign up through June 27 for coverage of any needed repairs or replacement of both their water and sewer lines from the foundations of their homes to the main lines for only $120 a year, an exceptional value considering the age and state of disrepair of many such lines in the city. For water line coverage only, the cost through June 27 is $61 a year, or $5.50 a month if paid monthly.
Costs are covered up to $4,000 per incident, with an additional $4,000 allowance if cutting public streets or sidewalks is necessary to complete the repairs. Unlike some competing services, under the NLC program there is no limit on the number of claims that will be covered.
Under the city’s contract with Service Line Warranties of America, a 24-hour a day staffed hotline is provided 365 days a year to answer repair requests, and the licensed local plumbers who perform the repairs are required to attempt to contact customers within 60 minutes of a request for service. Plumbers are dispatched within 24 hours to perform the repair.
A further protection for consumers included in the contract is a requirement that the contractor maintain a customer service satisfaction rating of good, very good or excellent of at least 85 percent per calendar quarter. The contractor must also be a member in good standing of the Better Business Bureau of Greater Kansas City.
Another benefit of the contract is that the city will receive a 10 percent royalty from Service Line Warranties of America, which will provide a new source of revenue to assist needy families with their water and sewer bills. Currently, the city provides $300,000 annually for such assistance through the Mid-America Assistance Coalition, but the demand far outweighs the available funds that come from late payment penalties on water and sewer bills.
I have personally talked to city officials where the NLC program is already operating and they were very satisfied with the service provided to their constituents. I have also studied the details of copycat offers that have been mailed to city residents by competing private companies since the city announced it was studying whether to join the NLC program. None of the competing offers provide the same level of protection for the same low cost with the same consumer protection features as the NLC program. That’s why I decided to personally sign up for the NLC program.
Unless homeowners have relatively new homes or have recently repaired or replaced their water and sewer lines, I suggest they seriously consider the NLC Service Line Warranty Program. Persons can obtain more information by calling 1-855-999-8806 or visiting www.SLWofA.com
Sincerely,John A. Sharp City Councilman 6th District