When Mary Martin went through her mail the other day and saw an envelope marked with the city of Arlington’s logo, she figured it was something she probably needed to open.
She was confused when she read the letter inside, which also had the city’s logo on it, and all it told her was that a company called Service Line Warranties of America was offering her a warranty on her sewer line.
“Then I wondered why the city was sending out a mailing endorsing a private company,” said Martin.
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She logged onto her Nextdoor site and discovered many of her neighbors had similar concerns about the letter.
“It doesn’t sound right to me,” said Martin.
NBC 5 spoke with Arlington’s Water Utilities Director Walter “Buzz” Pishkur, whose signature appears on the letters.
He says they’re not a scam – and the service the company provides is legitimate.
Following a competitive bid process earlier this year, Arlington awarded Service Line Warranties of America a contract to repair sewer lines that run through public property. Pishkur says the city thought residents might be interested in a warranty with the company in case problems were to arise on their private property.
“Why don’t we give our customers an option that we’ve vetted for them, that we think is credible if they’re considering that,” said Pishkur. “This is a voluntary program.”
The city says no taxpayer dollars were used to pay for the letters. Service Line Warranties covered all costs associated with printing and mailing them.
The company also had to file an open records request with the city to get mailing addresses of utility customers, which any citizen or business could do.
Finally, the city did not accept money for use of its logo and leaders turned down an offer to earn royalties from the program.
“We don’t get a kickback or fees for any people that sign up,” said Pishkur. “And what that’s done is allow them to actually quote us a below market rate for our residents.”
Martin says that sounds nice – but she’s not convinced that’s the city’s job.
“Why not endorse a grocery store, then?” said Martin. “Or a department store?”
Similar letters have been sent to residents of Plano and Dallas. Service Line Warranties of American made agreements with both of those cities.
In a statement to NBC 5, the company’s Vice President of Business Development Brad Carmichael wrote:
“Utility Service Partners, Inc. (USP) responded to a Request for Proposal that was issued by the City of Arlington in January 2015. After a thorough review process by the City, USP was selected to offer a service line warranty program to Arlington residents. Representatives from USP worked closely with officials from the Arlington Water Utilities Department to develop a communication plan to educate residents about their responsibility and provide a solution when their service line fails. The decision to enroll in the program is completely voluntary on the part of residents. The program is offered by Service Line Warranties of America (SLWA) and was introduced to residents by the Director of Water Utilities through a letter that began arriving in mailboxes in early October. SLWA is the consumer brand for USP. Additional information about the program can be found at http://www.slwofa.com/arlington/.
In addition to the private lateral line program, Arlington has also contracted with SLWA to manage repairs needed to sewer lines located in the public right-of-way (ROW). If you experience a sewer back-up, the number to call is 1-866-922-9006.”