February 18, 2009 By Andy Opsahl
Local governments seeking a way to collect extra revenue without raising taxes might want to follow the lead of Topeka, Kan. In 2005, the city deployed a GIS tool to help deduce homeowners that have access to the municipal sewer system without paying. The city compiled homeowner documents, like builder permits, water service applications and sewerage excavation permits, which are different than applications for access to the sewer system. The GIS tool then produced a map of the city showing where potential illegal sewer usage existed. For example, a building being on record as paying for water service but no sewer service often turned out to be receiving undocumented sewer service, explained Kyle Tjelmeland, GIS system analyst for Topeka
Each undocumented hookup Topeka discovered produced more than $1,000. The city has generated more than $120,000 since implementing the project. That may not seem like a lot of money at first glance, but it's huge to the Topeka Water Pollution Control Division, according to Daniel Rose, environmental engineering technician for the city.
"It's a ton of money when we're driven by revenue from our Water Pollution Control Division," Rose said.
You might wonder how a homeowner manages to attain functional sewer service without paying for it. Topeka homes don't have sewer meters, only water meters. The city bases sewer bills on the average amount of water a home uses over the months of December, January and February. Many local governments consider the amount of water a household uses during those three months to equal roughly the amount the household uses for flushing toilets over a year's time, Rose explained. If a home had an undocumented sewerage connection, sewer employees didn't know to calculate the household's winter water usage in order to charge the household for sewer services.