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Town invites public opinion on warranty partnership

Danielle Ryan

(8/24) Emmitsburg Town staff and the Board of Commissioners invite residents to a special public meeting, which will be held in October to learn more about the potential partnership with Utility Service Partners (USP).

During the July 10 Town meeting, Town staff and the Board of Commissioners listened to a presentation about a potential partnership with USP to provide homeowners with infrastructure warranties. In August, the Board discussed pros and cons to the program, while some members stood in favor, others stood against.

The program is aimed at addressing the public policy issue of aging infrastructure for homeowners specifically. The homeowners’ portion of infrastructure maintenance is often overlooked, as many communities look at maintaining public infrastructure primarily. By utilizing this program, USP would partner with the town to make the program voluntarily available to all residents in Emmitsburg. The program would provide homeowners with an optional protection or warranty on external water lines, external sewer lines and in-home plumbing.

The program offers three products for homeowners. Those interested in participating would not be obligated to sign up for all three, but can pick and choose which products they want. The product that offers warranty on external sewer lines costs $7.75 per month; the external water line product costs $5.75 per month; and the in-home plumbing product costs $9.99 per month. Residents wouldn’t be required to commit for any particular length of time. They could choose to continue with the product on a month-by-month basis if they so chose.

As discussed, anything that impedes the sewer, water or plumbing lines is susceptible for repair. A homeowner would simply need to call one of the toll free numbers provided. Under the warranty, up to $8,500 would be given toward each incident and every repair. There is no annual or lifetime limit on the number of repairs a homeowner may have.

Considering that all lines are something every resident is responsible for in order to help maintain the infrastructure of the Town, this could be a viable option for the Town. Commissioner Sweeney commented "This could really be beneficial for Emmitsburg. It can help those who may not be able to afford to make certain repairs when the Town cant help." Sweeney believes that about 70% of the town will benefit from this, due to low-income levels and the inability to afford costly sewer and water repairs.

One of the main concerns held by Commissioners is that if this partnership were made, some residents may view it as the Town endorsing a single warranty provider. Commissioner Tim O’Donnell mentioned that he’s not sure if there is any value in the town endorsing a single product because the town will be drawn into the consequences no matter what the outcome may be. If service is unsatisfactory for residents, the town may receive backlash as a consequence of "endorsing" this one warranty provider. However, no one has found another provider like USP that offers the same kind of product.

An additional concern is the potential of not having an adequate list or number of plumbers available for those residents who sign up for the program. After approval, USP reaches out to all plumbers licensed in the area to inquire about interest in the program. If a plumber agrees, they go through a vetting process before final approval.

Other small, local towns including Thurmont and Taneytown already utilize the program. Town Manager, Cathy Willets, reached out to Thurmont town staff that believes the program is working really well and residents who signed up seem satisfied with it.

Willets suggested the Board solicit public comments on this issue through either a referendum on the upcoming election ballot, or through a special public meeting. The Board decided to schedule a public meeting in October to allow residents to see the presentation and ask questions.

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