Board of Health considers septic fee

PORT ANGELES — The Clallam County Board of Health is considering a proposal that would charge septic tank owners a $13-per-year fee to support the county’s on-site septic system management program, a program that has been historically grant funded.

Clallam County Environmental Health is tasked with requiring regular septic inspection, ensuring known septic failures are fixed and maintaining accurate records for all septic systems, but the department has not had sustainable funding to make that happen, officials said Tuesday.

The fee would bring in about $260,000 in revenue each year.

On Tuesday the Board of Health unanimously agreed to move the ordinance forward, setting a public hearing on the proposed ordinance for 1:30 p.m. July 16.

The board is expected to take action following the public hearing.

The county adopted its on-site septic system management plan in 2007 to address those requirements, but it has never fully funded implementation.

The board is considering eliminating the $159 septic contract plan review fee and system status report review fees. Those cuts would be a combined $34,000.

Over the last 13 years the program has operated on an average of $176,000 in grant funding per year.

The fee would cover costs of outreach, training, testing and 2.5 staff positions.

“When this draft fee schedule was put together, it was reviewed comprehensively, and not only does it contemplate adding the fee, but also removing fees that would no longer be necessary or appropriate,” said County Commissioner Mark Ozias. “In my mind that underscores this is a responsible proposal.”

The Board of Health, which includes the three county commissioners, is the body that has the final say on the ordinance.

The Board of County Commissioners is not expected to take action.

If approved, the fee schedule changes would take effect in 2021 and Environmental Health would use current grant funding — about $300,000 — to refine the on-site septic management program and prepare for a transition to stable, local funding, officials said.

There are about 20,000 septic systems in Clallam County and since 2007 about 700 of those systems have failed.

Of those, 600 septic systems have been repaired.

Only about 25 percent of septic system owners are in compliance with inspection requirements, according to the county.

“Often, significant county staff time and effort are necessary to take repairs happen,” according to a county report. “Failing septic systems threaten public heath and pollute the environment — this is underscored by bacterial pollution reaching Dungeness Bay that has forced shellfish growing area closures over the past decades.”

Chief Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney David Alvarez told the Board of Health that the county is required to enforce septic regulations and that if the board didn’t, grant funding would dry up and the county could be open to lawsuits.

“There would be some political embarrassment for the [Board of County Commissioners] and the local health officer once word got out about non enforcement,” Alvarez said.

“The county would be the wild, wild west and nobody would have any incentive to get their periodic evaluation or inspection done.”

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected] dailynews.com.

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