Letter: Clarifications on proposed new septic ordinance

To the editor:

Thanks to The Democrat and reporter Ben Kibbey for the coverage of the recent health board meeting and the discussion of proposed new Brown County septic ordinance.

As the new ordinance has yet to be publicly released, Mr. Kibbey was not able to review the actual document for his article. I would like to clarify two topics covered in the article: the plans for a bedroom affidavit for new construction in the county and a septic inspection at the time of property transfers.

Bedroom affidavit: There is no affidavit proposed for sales of existing homes, only for new construction. The bedroom affidavit also does not require a homeowner to affirm that they understand the legal consequences of an undersized or failing septic. As Mr. Kibbey writes, the bedroom affidavit allows a new home’s owner to declare the number of rooms that will be used as bedrooms. Currently, the health department determines, according to state code, the number of home bedrooms for septic sizing. With the affidavit option, a homeowner can size the home septic based on planned usage. For example: a home designed as having three bedrooms, an office and a studio could, based on state septic code, require a septic system sized for a five-bedroom home. With the affidavit option, also approved by the state of Indiana, the homeowner could certify that the home only needed a three-bedroom septic system. To assure that the original septic contract is honored with future home transfers, the bedroom affidavit would be filed at the health department with the home’s septic permit, and the recorder’s office with the home deed.

Inspection at time of property sale: County sanitarians are reviewing recommendations by the state for septic inspections with the goal of developing guidelines that are economical, effective and practical. Most home lenders include a septic inspection as part of the home inspection process. Standardizing this process and certifying inspectors protects both home buyers and public health.

Another aspect of septic system review at time of sale is reconciling the septic system of record with the home as marketed. By state law, septic permits must be issued for new construction and reviewed in cases of home remodeling. In 2016, a health department sanitarian did a snapshot survey of houses on the market in Brown County to see if “there was a discrepancy on the number of bedrooms the house is being sold as and what the septic system was designed to hold.” Of 10 randomly selected homes, four were being sold as having more bedrooms than their septic was designed to serve and two had no septic permits on file. Such practices endanger both the home buyer and the public.

The article in The Democrat does correctly note that the state of Indiana’s laws regarding a “failing, failed or undersized septic system” require corrective action. As the article also states, the rules for septic sizing in effect at the time of home construction and the number of bedrooms certified with the original septic permit are used to determine adequate septic size.

The next meeting on the proposed ordinance is scheduled for Jan. 17 at 7 p.m. at the County Office Building’s Salmon Room. We hope all interested county residents will attend.

Sincerely,

Cathy Rountree, member, Brown County Board of Health

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