Berkley approves water/sewer warranty program
By Jeremy Selweski
C & G Staff Writer
June 6, 2012
BERKLEY — City residents now have the option to purchase a warranty program that protects against costly water and sewer line breaks.
At its May 21 meeting, the Berkley City Council voted unanimously to enter a marketing agreement with Utility Service Partners and the National League of Cities to offer the NLC Service Line Warranty Program to Berkley residents. According to Mike Chambers, regional account manager for Utility Service Partners, the program is an affordable home protection solution to help residents deal with the financial burden of unanticipated utility line repair and replacement costs that are not the city’s responsibility to fix.
As Chambers told the council, “Everywhere we go, we hear the same story: Whenever a resident has a (water or sewer line) break or their line is clogged for some reason, they call up the city, and the city will send someone out only to find out that the break is on the resident’s side, and there’s really nothing they can do to help them. A lot of times, residents become upset because most of them don’t even realize that this is something they’re responsible for. … It’s just not something that they think about until they’re sitting there with that $3,000 or $4,000 bill that they have to pay.”
The warranty program was brought before Berkley officials after it came to the attention of Councilwoman Eileen Steadman.
“I thought this would be something at a very low cost that would be really great to offer our residents who live in fear continually of a sewer or water line break, because those are very costly to repair,” she said. “I felt that this company … was really reasonable and covered a great deal, so I thought it would be important to bring this to the residents.”
Chambers noted that Utility Service Partners handles all the claim filings, marketing, billing and customer service. There is no cost for the city to participate in the program, and the company will give 10 percent of the revenue collected from any claims back to the city just for participating. Residents can enroll in the program for between $4 and $6 per month, Chambers said. If they experience any problems with their water or sewer line, they can call Utility Service
Partners’ customer service center 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the company will dispatch a licensed plumber to make the repair. Utility Service Partners hires all local contractors for the program, so only Berkley-area professionals will be sent out to fix problems at Berkley homes.
“That helps to keep all the dollars in the community,” Chambers explained, “but more importantly, the local contractors here know what the local codes are, so they’re going to make sure that the line gets fixed the way that the city wants it to get fixed.”
Chambers also insisted that the warranty program will not be offered to residents in an overly intrusive or aggressive manner.
“The way that we market the program is very simple,” he said. “We don’t do telemarketing, and we don’t do door-to-door sales or anything like that. Twice a year, we create a letter … to make people aware that this program is available. Residents don’t have to enroll in the program; it’s all optional. So if it makes sense for someone to enroll, they can; but if they don’t want to, they don’t have to. It’s not something that’s forced upon them.”
Interested residents can sign up for the program at anytime by responding to one of the company’s mailings, by calling (724) 678-6075 or by visiting www.utilitysp.net.
Once residents enroll, Chambers added, the most important thing for Utility Service Partners is customer satisfaction. There is no limit to the number of times that customers can contact them during a given month or year. Chambers noted that less than 2 percent of the claims filed with the company are denied, and the majority of those denials are because the customer has failed to make their monthly payment.
“Unlike a lot of the other companies out there, with this program, there is no annual cap or anything like that,” he said. “As long as people are making their monthly payment, then they have full access to their warranty. There’s no contract for them to sign, so if at any point they want to opt out of the program, all they have to do is let us know.” Members of council were impressed with Chambers’ presentation.
“I think this is something that our residents would find very valuable,” said Mayor Phil O’Dwyer. “Our housing stock is getting as old as some of us up here, and these kinds of issues tend to arise in communities that have an older housing stock.”
Councilman Alan Kideckel agreed. “I just want to say that I think this is a great program,” he said, “and it’s yet another thing that the National League of Cities does to help out residents and cities.”
According to Chambers, over 125 cities across the U.S. are currently participating in the program, including a handful in Michigan. Huntington Woods was one of the first cities in the state to sign up for it, and after Utility Service Partners’ first mailing campaign, over 40 percent of the households in Huntington Woods enrolled in the program. In less than two years, the company has paid out over $30,000 worth of claims in the city. City Manager Alex Allie explained that when Woods officials were first approached about the warranty program in 2010, they studied it extensively and were pleased with what they found.
“We fully checked it out, and we quickly realized that it’s a very good and legitimate program,” he said in a subsequent interview. “Everybody’s had a really positive experience with it so far; we haven’t had any complaints about it from our residents. I can’t think of a good reason why anyone would say no to this, because it’s a very inexpensive program that can save people thousands of dollars in the long run.”
You can reach C & G Staff Writer Jeremy Selweski at jSelweski@candgnews.com or at (586)218-5004.