Flat fee weighed for septic owners

$21 annual charge would replace inspection, tipping

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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The 34,000 Clark County residents with septic systems may no longer have to pay county inspection and tipping fees.

Instead, the county may tack a $21 flat fee onto property taxes for all landowners with septic systems.

The Clark County commissioners, serving in their role as the board of health, have been discussing changes to numerous environmental public health fees for several months.

But at their meeting Wednesday morning, the discussion centered around a proposal concerning tipping fees and electronic reporting fees.

Tipping fees are charged based on the amount of liquid pumped from a septic system. Systems are typically pumped every three to five years.

Electronic reporting fees are charged every time an inspection is completed. Depending on the type of septic system, inspections are required every one, two or three years.

Revenue from septic fees are used to operate the county’s operation and maintenance program. In addition to supporting the annual inspections, the program offers advice and guidance to residents who need to repair their systems, said John Wiesman, Clark County Public Health director.

The commissioners held a public hearing Wednesday and were set to vote on a proposal that would increase the tipping fee from 6 cents per gallon to 11 cents a gallon and increase the reporting fee from $20 to $28.

But during the meeting, public health staff provided the commissioners with an alternative proposal. That proposal would eliminate the two fees and impose a flat $21 fee on property taxes.

Compliance concerns

The alternative proposal was drafted after the county’s septic system advisory committee raised concerns about the original proposal.

The county asks for voluntary compliance with the inspection schedule. The advisory committee worried if the fee went up, people might not have the inspections done, Wiesman said. The compliance rate is usually about 60 percent, he said.

In addition, committee members worried some companies were tipping systems that didn’t need it or were cheating the system by not accurately reporting how much liquid was pumped, Wiesman said.

The new proposal, however, would address those concerns. The flat-fee proposal would also cost homeowners less, on average, than the original proposal.

Currently, residents with conventional systems pay about $15.83 a year for inspections and tipping. The original proposal would cost homeowners about $28.66, according to estimations provided by the health department.

The new proposal would cost all septic system owners $21 a year, spreading the cost of the program to everyone and not just those complying with inspection and tipping requirements.

All three commissioners said they were uncomfortable with voting on the new proposal without receiving public comment so they will hold a public hearingat the board of health meeting next month.

Commissioners Steve Stuart and Marc Boldt both expressed interest in the new proposal. Commissioner Tom Mielke, however, said he did not favor the across-the-board fee as a method for funding the operation and maintenance program.

“I live in the rural area. I have a septic system,” Mielke said. “I don’t think I should be punished or help finance a person who needs help maintaining theirs.”

Wiesman said the program provides oversight that didn’t exist.

“Ultimately, this program is about protecting the drinking water of, certainly our community, and individual property owners,” he said.

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com.