Drainage repair bill proposed

Aging and deteriorating drainage infrastructure that has led to sinkholes and street flooding in older neighborhoods has county officials asking the state to give homeowners a way to spread out the cost of expensive repairs.

When a storm drain pipe breaks in unincorporated Johnson County, property owners are left with the options of paying potentially thousands for the pipe to be fixed or letting it remain broken. Now, the state legislature is considering a bill that would let residents in a neighborhood share the cost of drainage repairs, allowing the work to be done without burdening one homeowner with the sole cost.

The proposal has been approved by the House, and was recently approved by a Senate committee. If the bill gets final approval, the new rules would likely serve as a pilot program for Johnson County and Indianapolis.

Story continues below gallery

As the infrastructure underneath some of the county’s oldest neighborhoods has aged, a more common problem the county has been coming across is collapsed drainage pipes, which cause sinkholes and flooding on neighborhood roads, Johnson County Commissioner Ron West said. That can result in lower property values in a neighborhood, West said.

West has been working with State Rep. Woody Burton, who represents parts of Johnson County, on legislation that would change the way drainage repairs can be paid for. Their proposal would have the county pay for the drainage repairs initially, with the cost of the work being paid back by all of the homeowners in the neighborhood through an added charge with their property taxes. A $10,000 project, for example, split by 100 residents and spread out over five years would result in a yearly increase of $20.

But the process is also entirely voluntary. The majority of residents in a homeowners association or subdivision would have to approve of the project, Burton said.

In past years, West said he has had several residents approach him about drainage issues, including sinkholes that residents have had to cover with plywood or block off with caution tape.

Under state law, the homeowner of the property where the drainage pipe has broken is the one responsible for paying for the infrastructure repairs, West said. But the drainage pipes were installed for the benefit of the entire neighborhood, so the cost of maintaining them should be spread out, West said.

Burton’s proposal was introduced this session, and likely will be amended to become a three-year pilot program for Johnson County and Indianapolis, which is experiencing similar issues, Burton said. That would allow Johnson County to work with homeowners to address drainage issues, and give other communities a chance to see how the program works before deciding if they want the same option, Burton said.

A look at the legislation

Aging and deteriorating drainage infrastructure in Johnson County have local officials asking the state to change the way repairs are funded so that residents can put a stop to the resulting sinkholes and flooded roads. Here’s a look at the current rules and what the new legislation would do:

Currently: Homeowners in unincorporated Johnson County who have a storm drainage pipe underneath their property that is in need of repair have to pay for the cost of the project themselves.

Proposed: Residents of a neighborhood where a drain pipe has broken will be able to vote on whether they want to pay for the cost of the work together. The local government will pay for the work, which all residents in the neighborhood will pay back over a set number of years through an increase in their property taxes.

Author photo
Jacob Tellers is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at jtellers@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2702.