AWENDAW, SC (WCSC) - Some homeowners in Awendaw could be in danger of having their homes taken away by the town.
Come April tax liens will be placed on the properties of mandated homeowners who have refused to tie into the town's water system.
Voters approved the referendum in 1997 to develop a new system to fix some of their water issues.
The system is able to serve more than the 200 homes near Doar and Seewee Roads in Awendaw required to tie in.
Of that number, 44 are mandated to connect to the system, but haven't done so.
Half are paying the $26 a month fine from the town, while the other half is paying nothing.
"We're not trying to punish people," said Town Administrator William Wallace. "We're just trying to get them hooked up to the water system. It's a health and welfare, and safety issue."
When the system was built, the Town received grant money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Office and from the S.C. Department of Commerce. They also had to borrow $460,000 to make the construction happen.
The Town needs the money from its residents to pay back the loan they borrowed as part of the water system referendum that was voted on.
Over the past three years the Town has given residents several options to pay, and in some cases, was able to get some money back.
As part of the Debt Setoff Program with the Municipal Association of South Carolina, the Town is able to get back the amount owed from these property owners' state income tax refunds.
The total amount is subtracted from their refund and given to the Town.
However, for some, that income isn't coming in, requiring the Town to take the next steps by placing liens on homes.
"The lien will just be whatever the amount is that they have not paid," Wallace said. "It depends, some people who are mandatory connects, they've been being billed for three years and haven't paid anything."
"Wow," said Thomas Meservy, of Awendaw. He is one homeowner who is connect to the system, but surprised the town has taken this action.
"If the law is in place and you break the law, the people who are enforcing the law have a lot of latitude," he said.
"It sucks that they have to put any kind of lien on anybody's property especially when it's their property," said Tonya Matthews, another homeowner connected to the system. "You gotta choose, take the water or take the fine."
Homeowners who live within 300 feet of the water lines are required, by law, to connect.
It costs a one-time fee of $950 to connect, plus monthly water bills. The town says the average is about $35 a month.
"It's not fair to people when the town voted to have a water system, that some people can say, 'I'm not going to be part of it.' Then everybody else's water bill is going to have to be higher," Wallace said.
The town has offered to discuss a payment option plan to connect the remaining homes.
In the past they have offered homeowners to pay $95 up front for the connection charge, and then offered a one-year payment plan to pay of the rest of the $950 fee. Only a few have taken up that option.
Town officials are required to give a written notice to those homeowners about a possible lien on their property. If there's no response returned, a lien will be put in place 30 days after that letter is sent.
A lien on your property could affect you in several ways.
In most cases, you are unable to sell your property until the lien is removed, meaning you have to pay it. It can also put a dent in your credit score.