Normally I am for progress, as long as it isn't too ugly.  So I was optimistic when I attended a water district extension meeting.  75% of the people in the proposed district want municipal water, according to a petition that was submitted to the Town of Lansing.  Theoretically that means that three quarters of homeowners in that proposed district are OK with paying $797 per year to pay back a loan for the new infrastructure, plus $54.50 per quarter for water usage, plus about $800 in hookup fees, not including the actual line you hook up with.

I thought, 'this is great.  People with bad wells can finally get good water, and everyone will have great water pressure.'  My own water pressure is tolerable, but noticeably weak, especially if someone flushes a toilet while you are in the shower.  So I thought this will be great for those folks.  But then I started doing the math.  Because that hookup line is estimated at around $30 per linear foot.  That's not so bad if you have a short driveway.  But I have a long driveway.  That hookup line alone would cost me in the arena of $13,000.

Yike!  Suddenly I had a little empathy for the very angry man who complained profanely and loudly that the approximately $1,000 extra per year would force him out of his house.  Still not thrilled with his behavior, but suddenly I understood why he was so upset.

Infrastructure districts are mini-democracies.  They are only formed if the majority wants them, and they generally do bring benefits to everyone.  The way they work is that everyone within the boundaries of the district must pay for the infrastructure, and the ones who actually hook up to the system have to pay for usage.  People who are outside the area that can receive service don't pay -- only the people in the district do.  But everyone in the district has to pay.

There is one way to avoid that.  Property owners may ask to opt out when the boundaries of a district are being formed.  Municipalities don't like to do that, because you do need a certain volume of people in the district to make the utility affordable.  If ten people have to pay $100, each one pays $10.  If 20 people have the same debt, each only pays $5.  So it is useful to have a certain threshold of participants in a water district.  That's why municipalities like to define a chunk of properties and include them all.

The new sewer district proposed for the area south of Asbury Road is a kind of exception because the developers who really want sewer there are willing to pay for it.  So the Town can exclude property owners along the route, while keeping the ability to let them hook up if they do want to pay to do so (and if the available sewer plant capacity cap isn't exceeded).  But for most districts it's everybody or nobody.

One might argue that the new service benefits the municipality as a whole, and it is the natural course of things that some people will be nudged out.  Oh well.

Except not 'oh well' to those people who are on the wrong side of the nudging.  Losing your home due to circumstances beyond your control stinks.  I happen to live fairly close to one of the newly proposed water district extensions, so I am worried that my street may be next.  Having a good well that hasn't dried up even in drought years makes the thought of municipal water even more daunting for me.

I grew up in a community that already had municipal water and sewer -- or did it?  Come to think of it, the house I grew up in was one of the first to be built in an area that had been a farm.  I have no idea what it cost my parents to have sewer and water there, though we had it from day one.  One of the benefits of municipal sewer was that when my Mother's wedding ring fell down the kitchen drain, a municipal worker mucked around in the sewer in front of our house until he found it.  You don't get that if you have your own septic system!  (Yeah, we do underrate our municipal workers, big time!)

So what is the answer?  This kind of progress is good for some people and not good for others, and you just have to hope that you're going to be one of the ones it will be good for.  I have often thought that municipal utilities are best in areas that already had them before you bought your house.

In our modern times it is easy to take certain things for granted.  Every time I think it would be cool to live in medieval times I think about the absence of toilet paper, and all of a sudden it isn't so attractive.  These are medieval times in some areas of Lansing.  Tougher for some than we imagine when all some of us think about clear, safe water pouring lustily into our sinks and tubs and showers.  I don't know what we can do about it, but there it is.