To the editor:
I participated in the public meetings last year on the proposed septic ordinance. Despite the concerns and recommendations identified at the meetings provided by a diversity of stakeholders, there have been no significant changes to narrow the scope of the proposed ordinance.
The meetings did inspire me to develop an outline of a better process for developing new policies. See “Example County Decision-Making Process” at the website “Independent Voters of Brown County IN” (all one word). This process includes definitions to clarify the difference between a fact and a non-fact. The health board does not have the facts to back up their suspicions that there may be a large number of failed systems in the county.
State requirements should not be exceeded without a compelling need. My opposition to the proposed ordinance includes the following concerns:
No documented and scientifically validated analysis that justifies exceeding state standards has been provided. Sections of the ordinance that exceed what is required by the state include county certification of installers and county inspection standards. The fines and penalties can also be problematic.
The costs and benefits of shifting the responsibility of individuals (buyers and sellers) and the private sector (realtors, inspectors, banks) onto the government and its taxpayers have not been justified or quantified, nor is this shift considered a core function of government.
The life of a septic system has been estimated at 25 to 30 years. The technology, maintenance history, water usage and soil types all affect the performance of a system. If the 25- to 30-year estimate is accurate, how many existing systems may have outlived their useful life? How and when will the new ordinance be enforced to identify these potential failed systems?
What will be the economic impacts and hardships resulting from failed systems on the 53 percent of our population that are in the low to moderate income range — many on fixed incomes, that may not be able to afford the cost associated with septic system repairs and replacements?
If it is proven that there is a high number of failed systems, this will present the opportunity for the county to negotiate for volume discounts for repairs and replacements. It could also demonstrate a need for sewers. Application for financial aid related grants may also be possible.
The standard operating procedures (SOPs) that will be used to administer and enforce this proposed ordinance have not been published and made available to the public. SOPs provide the supporting detail that identifies the steps that will be followed in enforcing the ordinance. These steps would include those involved with condemning properties, disapproving home remodeling projects, assessing fines, resolving complaints filed against the health department, processing appeals, filing lawsuits against citizens, et. al.
Without SOPs, the proposed ordinance if passed as-is, can lead to corruption and abuse if it is leveraged for selective testing and enforcement. Consequently, an enforcement plan would be needed to ensure citizens that the ordinance is being enforced fairly and equitably.
In summary, update the ordinance as needed to comply with existing state code only. Form a project team or contract with a consultant to study and address the larger and more complex issues.
Tim Clark, Brown County
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