The Osceola Water Works board had guest speaker Ashley Shiwarski, representative of the National League of Cities Service Line Program, at their meeting on Sept. 2.
This service line program is the only program approved by both the National League of Cities and the Iowa League of Cities. This program is provided by the HomeServe company and its program partners with municipal utilities, who use their logos to send direct mail to the utilities that offer this optional program. Mailings will not go out until the program has been reviewed and approved by Osceola Water Works. The program is currently used by 112 other municipalities in Iowa.
Within the program, there are three options for customers to choose, protection for external water pipes, external sewer pipes and indoor plumbing. All aspects of the program are handled by Help Serve, so if a resident signs up for the program and ends up having a leak or issues with the service line, they call Help Serve instead of Osceola Water Works.
The external lines would be repaired or replaced by the program, frozen lines would be thawed, if during a repair a lead line is discovered instead of repairing it, the lead line is replaced. Homeowners receive up to $8,500 in coverage through the program for each repair incident. There is no annual or lifetime limit. There is no limit to the number of claims program participants can make in a calendar year. There are no service charges or deductibles. Program participants can pay monthly, quarterly or annually. The monthly price for external waterline coverage is $6.75. External sewage coverage is $7.75 per month.
The in-home plumbing option covers any water, sewer, or drain lines beyond the point of entry into the home that are broken or leaking. Think of pipes under a plate or basement floor and repairing clogged toilets. The in-home option again has no limit on the number of claims and no service fees or deductibles. This option covers up to $3,000 per incident. The monthly price for the plumbing in the house is $9.99.
Osceola Water Works would pay nothing to participate in the program, making it available to customers. They would get an annual income from the program. Osceola Water Works customers can join the program at any time, there is a 30-day waiting period before the program’s services begin for any of the options. Options can be added at any time. Customers can also cancel at any time and get a refund for unused months.
“When a resident has a problem with one of his outside lines, he often calls someone from the utility for the first time. Then you must use the staff’s time to go out and determine that the problem is on the resident’s part of the line and then you are the bearer of that bad news, laying down at the worst possible time to a homeowner that these lines are not covered by the utility or, usually, their homeowners’ insurance,” Shiwarski said.
The program only uses local plumbers to keep money in the local economy, but also because local plumbers know the local codes and the types of permits needed, but will do the job according to the program standards. They involve plumbers in the program by leveraging a network of contractors, which allows local plumbers to guarantee a steady stream of work and direct payment from the program, not the customer. Before joining, plumbers undergo background and drug testing, as well as checks for proper licensing and insurance. Network plumbers call the homeowner no more than four hours after a claim is made through the program and are at the home within 24 hours. If no local plumbers are available to perform the work within the stipulated time, the program will contact the network plumbers in the next closed area.
The majority of the board of directors was prepared to proceed with a legal assessment of the program after the presentation. Board member Dr. Jim Kimball wanted further discussion before voting on the motion to continue.
“I was wondering if we could have a money fund that people could choose, say $10 a month. How many customers do we have? How much would that bring in? I think we could do this ourselves,” Kimball said.
“Don’t you think that would be a logistical nightmare,” said board member Sara O’Hair.
“It’s an insurance policy,” Kimball said.
“But do we want to get that done”, says board chairman Alisha Kale. “I’m attracted to it” [the program] because if there’s anything in the house now, nobody’s insurance will cover it. I would get this, I would get everything.”
“I’d like to know if our legal team would even be willing to let us do something like that, with our own fund,” Kale said.
Vice Chair Larry Bishop continued his earlier motion to move the program to the legal council and also to have the legal team consult the board on their own account. Both options will then be discussed by the board, after having heard legal advice at the October 7 meeting.
The council unanimously approved this proposal.