Lorain County homeowners upset with new inspection fees for septic systems

Leslie Ahrens speaks during a Jan. 16 Lorain County Commission meeting. (Heather Chapin – The Morning Journal)

A new required permit for Lorain County homeowners with septic tanks on their properties caused confusion and anger among residents, who spoke out against the new costs during the Jan. 16 Lorain County Commission meeting.

In January 2015, the Ohio Department of Health adopted new Domestic Wastewater Treatment Systems (HSTS) rules that require all health departments statewide to implement a local operations and maintenance program to monitor and ensure the proper functioning of HSTS within their jurisdiction on the site from Lorain County Public Health.

“Lorain County Public Health is committed to protecting people and the environment by ensuring HSTS operate as intended. If HSTS do not function properly, they can negatively impact local watersheds by adding bacteria and pollution,” the website says.

Health departments are responsible for overseeing the proper maintenance of more than 20,000 residential wastewater treatment systems, about which health departments often have limited information.

For this reason, the state passed a law requiring the issuance of a new permit for any homeowner who uses a domestic wastewater treatment system.

Newly registered homeowners had the option of choosing a one-year permit for $40 or a three-year permit for $120.

Payments are due by April 30, according to the local health department’s website.

“The definition of robbery is taking something by force,” said Leslie Ahrens, who lives on Dunton Road in Sheffield Township and owns a septic tank. “This permit fee from Lorain County Health is nothing short of robbery.

“I am strongly opposed to this $40 fee. There was no vote on this. It is not a permit. It’s plain robbery.”

Ahrens also told commissioners that every Dunton Road resident had septic tanks installed 50 to 100 years ago.

Dunton Road residents have no choice because there is no access to a sewer system in the area, he said.

John Meade, a neighbor of Ahrens, questioned how many new inspectors the county would need to hire and at what cost to taxpayers.

Meade also raised concerns about the cost of the new vehicles the county would likely have to purchase to allow inspectors to carry out their duties.

“Suddenly I see us getting into a hole right away,” he said.

Debra Williams, of LaGrange, told commissioners that at first, when she was notified of the required permit, she believed it was a scam.

“The last thing I’m going to do is pick up my phone and scan a QR code that I’m not sure where it actually came from and I was afraid to call that number from my phone,” Williams said. “When the word permit comes up, you normally apply for a permit before you build something, before you put something in a house, not when something already exists.

“It’s like putting the cart before the horse.”

Commission President Jeffrey Riddell recently attended a meeting with about 50 people, and about 30 of them expressed concerns about the new permitting program.

“You are not alone; the three of you are not alone,” Riddell told the speaking residents. “I’m afraid we don’t have all the answers yet.”

Riddell also questioned the significant amount of money that will be collected to eventually inspect each of the county’s septic tank systems.

Meanwhile, Commission Vice President David Moore called the new program another “famous unfunded Columbus mandate.”

Moore said the commission learned about the program through the news media, as did residents.

“How can we alleviate people’s future anxiety when they realize that their sewer system may be down and they can’t even afford the $120?” he asked. “Can you imagine what will happen if they can’t even afford to convert it to code?”

Moore speculated that upgrading sewer systems could cost between $8,000 and $15,000.

Commissioner Michelle Hung explained that the program was introduced because “unfortunately there are people who do things they shouldn’t do.”

The commission referred residents to Lorain County Public Health.

“You have to listen to you, and they will listen,” Moore told residents.

The health board meets on the second Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m. at the health department at 9880 Murray Ridge Road in Elyria, according to a staff member.

Lorain County Public Health can also be contacted by email at [email protected] or by telephone at 440-322-6367.

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