Clallam commissioners approve new hire for onsite sewage management plan

Board of Health to mull proposed fee for septic tank owners today

PORT ANGELES — Clallam County commissioners Monday directed Environmental Health to hire an additional environmental health specialist position to support its onsite sewage management plan, a day before the Board of Health would discuss a proposed annual fee for septic tank owners.

In a memo, Water Quality specialist Jacob Melly wrote that the county currently has grant money that would fund the position part way through 2021.

“Meanwhile, we’ve appealed to the Board of Health to fund our Onsite Sewage Management Program sustainability, so hopefully we’ll be able to make the position permanent if (when) grant money disappears,” Melly wrote.

In his memo he said the current grant is $240,000 and that the prior grant was $160,000.

“We were already struggling to spend down the first grant and we had to divert staff effort from other programs to fulfill grant deliverables,” Melly wrote. “Historically, we’ve had to request due date extensions and we’ve left money unspent, as well. Now, a condition of our current funding (and a grant deliverable) is hiring adequate staffing for the project.”

The Board of Health will discuss the proposed septic fee at 1:30 p.m. today in the commissioner chambers in the Clallam County Courthouse.

The fee was proposed, in part, to fund 2.5 staff positions. The new environmental health specialist position would bring the program up to 2.5 positions, Melly said.

Commissioners, who also sit on the Board of Health, expressed concern about what happens when funding runs out and if the fee isn’t adopted.

“What happens when the time runs out? A pink slip?” Commissioner Bill Peach asked. “We’ve got a public hearing coming up on this issue. Right now I’m concerned if we dash into a situation because someone gave us free money.”

Commissioner Randy Johnson said he’s “had as much push back on this issue” as any other issue. He said the county needs to be able to measure success if it goes forward.

“We should know within the next month or so whether we’re going to move to adopt an on-site septic fee or not,” said Commissioner Mark Ozias.

“We don’t yet and may not have a mechanism to guarantee funding for this position in perpetuity,” Ozias said. “I don’t want to set ourselves up for failure. We have funding available for the next year and a half.”

The annual fee on septic system owners would bring in about $260,000 in revenue each year.

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.

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

If approved, the fee schedule changes would take effect in 2021 and Environmental Health would use current grant funding 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.

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

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