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Town split on warranty partnership

Danielle Ryan

(10/23) Emmitsburg Town staff and the Board of Commissioners held a special public meeting on October 16 to learn more about the potential partnership with Utility Service Partners (USP). Residents were invited to attend, but only one member of the Emmitsburg community was present.

A potential warranty partnership with USP was first presented and discussed in July. The program is aimed at addressing the public policy issue of aging infrastructure for homeowners. The homeowners’ portion of infrastructure maintenance is often overlooked, as many communities look at primarily maintaining public infrastructure. 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 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, as there is no annual contract.

As discussed, anything that impedes the sewer, water or plumbing lines is susceptible for repair. Under the warranty, up to $8,500 would be given toward each external incident and every repair. For any in-home plumbing repair, the warranty will cover up to $3,000 per repair incident. There is no annual or lifetime limit on the number of repairs a homeowner may have, and there are no deductibles or service fees. This company also utilizes local plumbers who make it through a rigorous vetting process, ensuring customers they are receiving the best contractors.

Commissioner O’Donnell raised several concerns. The potential for possible litigation down the road worries Commissioner O’Donnell and Commissioner Joe Ritz. The warranty is only made available to residents if the town chooses to partner with the company, providing an endorsement of the product. 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. "This service is a benefit to the community but not in this format," noted O’Donnell. There are other companies out there that provide similar services, but don’t require an endorsement by the town. Endorsing this product could lead to problems down the line.

However, Commissioner Sweeney believes this could be a very beneficial product for residents who may not be able to afford costly sewer and water repairs. It may also be beneficial for many, as many homeowners insurance companies don’t cover these types of repairs; instead they focus primarily on property damage incurred as a result of plumbing incidents. Plus, other small, local towns including Thurmont and Taneytown already utilize the program.

No official decision was made, and the Board currently seems to be split. They will officially vote on this item during a future meeting. Town Manager Cathy Willets will have the town Attorney look over the documents and provide comments on any concerns he may see.

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