06/17/10 — Health board OKs septic fee increase

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Health board OKs septic fee increase

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 17, 2010 1:46 PM

The Board of Health on Wednesday approved a $50 increase in the cost for a septic system permit -- from $200 to $250.

At the May meeting, the board had voted down a proposal to raise the fee to $300, which was in line with what Pitt and Wilson counties charge.

The fee covers evaluating a lot for the septic system, evaluating the soil and drawing up the permit that shows where the septic system has to go, said Kevin Whitley, environmental health director. Staff also make a return visit when the system is installed, "to make sure it's installed correctly and people get what they pay for."

Whitley was asked to investigate the situation further and to bring his findings to this month's meeting.

He said the number of permits issued has steadily dropped -- compared to 2005-06, when there were close to 1,000, this year only 290 have been issued.

Yet the cost to the county has gone up, he said -- $643 to supply that service.

"Obviously we're only charging $200 and the rest is being taken up by tax dollars," he said.

Since the early 2000s, building has dwindled in the county, Whitley had told the board earlier. That is a nationwide trend, he added.

One of the bi-products is a reduction in staffing within the environmental health department. Through retirements and downsizing, three positions have been cut in the department, which is now down to two employees.

"The staff is fairly stable (now)," Whitley said. "In July 2007, when we increased the fee from $175 to $200 Lee (Smith, county manager) allowed us to keep that money straight in environmental health. Since then, it's kind of like the bottom dropped out (of the economy)."

Board member Ira Thigpen elicited fellow board member Jeff Kornegay's opinion on the proposed increase. Kornegay is an engineer, whose business could feel the effects of the fee change.

"It's better than $300," Kornegay said. "On the other hand, we're in a depressed economy so that does trouble me some on that. ... That's the only negative side -- increasing that cost for people having a hard time paying and building a house."

"It does reduce taxpayer involvement," said James Roosen, health director. "This is going to charge the owner an extra $50."

At the same time, he added, the increase is projected to increase the Health Department's revenue by $15,000 a year.

Kornegay said his only concern is that the same problem will again surface in the future.

"I hate to see us have to raise the fee again later," he said. "But I think that dropping it from $300 to $250 is a lot more pleasant."

"It's not like we're going to be the outlier," said Whitley, explaining that the $250 rate would still be in line with other counties of a similar size and population.

The vote passed 6-1, with Thigpen the only dissenting vote.