Rules and Regs: Citizens Rally to Stop Health Department Changes

Also in this month’s update, Nassau County announces program to help upgrade failing onsite systems

Rules and Regs: Citizens Rally to Stop Health Department Changes

Citizen opposition sank a proposal to dissolve the joint Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department in the state of Washington and create a county health department in its place.

Republican members of the county council introduced the ordinance near the beginning of December and vowed to vote on it before the end of the month. They said the joint city-county department was overseen by a board that did not fairly represent county interests, news reports said.

But the Tacoma News Tribune raised another point: The health department is responsible for issuing onsite wastewater system permits necessary for development, and the Republican chairman of the county council told the newspaper that “streamlining” the development process played a large role in his support of the change. Another member of the council, a commercial subcontractor, also mentioned the health department’s permit role in a Twitter post but did not respond to the newspaper’s request for comment.

Citizens took a dim view of the idea. Dozens gathered outside the County-City Building in Tacoma in early December to protest the proposed dissolution of the department. They objected to making a major change in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. During the Dec. 15 council meeting, when the ordinance dissolving the department was considered, public comments consumed about four hours, and the majority of citizens commenting opposed the change.

In the end, the ordinance failed on a 3-3 vote when the council member who sponsored the ordinance joined two Democratic members in voting against it. (One member of the council excused herself from the meeting.)

Miami-Dade Mayor supports financing for high cost of converting septic to sewer

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told county commissioners in December that converting all county septic tanks to municipal sewer service will cost more than $4 billion. The cost estimate is part of her action plan to address water pollution in Biscayne Bay, which is formed between Miami on the mainland and the barrier island holding Miami Beach.

There are about 120,000 septic tanks in the county, Cava’s plan says, and the cost to use municipal sewer instead of onsite technology is estimated to cost each homeowner between $7,500 and $40,000. Cava wants financing help for homeowners, and recommended prioritizing the most vulnerable onsite systems such as those most likely to fail or those in flood-prone areas.

Replacement program to help upgrade failing onsite systems in Nassau County

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran announced an onsite system replacement program for residences and small businesses. The program will provide money to replace a conventional or failing septic system with an advanced treatment unit to remove nitrogen. Grants would pay for 50% of the replacement cost, up to a maximum of $10,000.

Tens of thousands of buildings in the county are served by cesspools. The county is on Long Island and next to New York City. To the east is Suffolk County where hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses are served by cesspools, and where the county and local governments have spent several years creating programs to use advanced treatment technologies in order to reduce nearshore water pollution.

System replacement grants increase to include engineering review cost

Suffolk County has increased the grant amounts for replacement of onsite wastewater systems.

Homeowners were eligible for up to $20,000, but a state-required engineering review could cost between $2,000 and $5,000. So the county added $5,000 to grants for those engineering costs, county legislator Rob Calarco told The Long Island Advance.

Suffolk County occupies the eastern end of Long Island and includes the wealthy Hamptons communities. It also has hundreds of thousands of cesspools and has spent several years creating programs to replace them with nitrogen-removing advanced treatment units. Beginning in July, all new construction in the county will require such technologies.

Water quality group pushes for septic inspection program for lake properties in New York

A group of public and elected officials, environmental organizations and citizens is calling on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to implement an inspection and maintenance program for onsite systems near the shores of lakes.

The group was created by the Assembly Point Water Quality Coalition following a Nov. 4 algae bloom in Lake George, reported the Post-Star of Glens Falls, New York.

“Because there are eight towns and one village within three counties in the Lake George watershed, it is critical that a septic inspection program be implemented lakewide by the state of New York,” says a letter from the group to Cuomo. “A proactive approach would be cost-effective in comparison to the economic expense of reversing a polluted Lake George.”

News reports said cyanobacteria appeared on the surface of the lake and spread through several bays on its south end. The lake is part of the tourism-heavy Adirondack Park region and is known for its water clarity. There are also about 6,000 onsite systems in the lake watershed. November is late for algae blooms; most occur in late summer or early fall.

A study by the nonprofit FUND for Lake George looked at a sample of about 400 septic systems within 500 feet of the shore or within 100 feet of tributaries to the lake. One-third of those systems had been installed within the previous 25 years. Another third were in the 30- to 40-year life expectancy for a system, or were older. The age of the remaining third was unknown.

Portable restroom operator faces large penalties in rental tax case

A portable restroom operator lost his tax case before the Missouri state Supreme Court and now faces thousands of dollars in penalties.

Charlie Gott, who owns Gott’s to Go, was accused by the state of not paying sales tax on rentals of his 240 portable units. Under state law, money paid to rent personal property is subject to sales tax, but money paid for a service is not, reported the Missouri Independent.

The question that the court decided was whether Gott was renting property (the portable units) or charging for a service.

Although Gott charges for servicing units, that occurs only at long events, wrote Jason Lewis, an assistant deputy attorney general, in a brief to the court. Everything Gott does occurs because a customer rented a portable unit, he wrote.

The court agreed. “Without providing the portable toilets to its customers,” wrote Chief Justice George Draper, “Gott’s has no service to provide.”

The state had demanded $56,905 from Gott for unpaid sales tax, plus $201 in unpaid use taxes for out-of-state rentals, for 2014 through 2016. The court’s ruling did not address Gott’s final cost, but he would also be subject to interest and penalties on the unpaid taxes. He told the newspaper he has also not been charging sales tax since 2016.

Arkansas city to phase-in planned increase to septage disposal fees

Hot Springs, Arkansas, is revising its septage disposal fee, but it will also phase-in the changes.

Prior to the city’s action, septage haulers were charged $20 per load to discharge into the city’s wastewater treatment plant. A letter from Monty Ledbetter, the city’s utilities director, said this amounted to a charge of 1 cent per gallon. From January 2019 to August 2020, the fee generated $35,240. That was not enough to cover the operation and maintenance costs of providing the service, Ledbetter wrote.

He proposed a fee of 5 cents per gallon. For that same period of time, the city would have collected $173,824. But because the city has no way to meter the volume of septage discharged, the fee will be applied to the total volume of the truck discharging.

The city’s Board of Directors agreed to the fee, but decided it will be phased in over two years. That decision followed a request from Darius Melton, who sits on the board of the Arkansas Onsite Wastewater Association.

"I didn't know any of this was going on," Melton told the board, according to The Sentinel-Record. "A 5 cents a gallon increase at this time, in my opinion, is a little strong."

Melton also said the city’s method of charging by total volume would result in a particularly large increase in cost for customers because haulers must pay for a full load even if a truck isn’t full. The fee will be 3 cents per gallon in 2021 and will increase to 5 cents in 2022. The ordinance changing the fee also allows the city to charge an annual permit fee of $75 for each truck discharging, and city officials said each truck would be inspected before a permit is issued.


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