Cumberland Times-News

May 19, 2013

New septic system rules will tax county health department

Costly technology eventually may lead to inspection fee increase

Matthew Bieniek
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — New state laws on septic systems will require increased on-site work for Allegany County Health Department staff and could lead to an eventual increase in septic system inspection fees, department officials said last week.

The new laws require new septic systems to use the best available technology. And that technology is expensive.

“Basically, these systems are small wastewater treatment plants in a tank,” said Brian Dicken, director of environmental health. “More site visits are going to be involved.” That means the department may have to look at increasing septic inspection fees to compensate for the time and effort involved. Such fees could only be increased by county commissioners after public comment. The current fee for a septic installation permit is $100.

“They do work, but they are expensive,” Dicken said. The new systems also require a five-year operating and maintenence agreement. Health department officials will need to evaluate the grading of the septic site and the location of the home in relation to the septic system, among other things. Two full time employees currently are tasked with inspecting septic systems, Dicken said.

County Administrator David Eberly pointed out that the new septic rules are another unfunded mandate from the state. The new systems, excluding labor, will cost between $11,000 and $15,000, Dicken said. The new systems include electronics that automatically contact a call center if problems develop in the septic tank.

The new septic rules, passed in 2012, are not popular among many rural residents, farmers and political leaders. Septic systems are widely used in rural areas like Allegany County.

Current law limits development by tightly regulating the size of housing developments that can be placed on septic systems. Almost all larger developments must be placed on public sewer systems, and only smaller and modest-sized developments can be placed on septic.

Dicken made the statements at the Allegany County Board of Health meeting last week at department offices on Willowbrook Road.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com.