Letter: Revised septic ordinance still contains concerns

To the editor:

In this letter I will address some of my concerns with Section 703 of the proposed septic ordinance. I’ll also offer another alternative for Section 703 that doesn’t mandate inspections and that can address the health departments stated goals for proposing Section 703.

Section 703: Prior to the sale of any property with an onsite septic system, a complete septic inspection must be conducted by a certified septic inspector. If the inspected septic system does not comply with the requirements of the septic ordinance at the time of the dwelling’s construction, or if it is in failure as determined by the septic inspection, the septic system must be upgraded to meet current onsite septic system standards.

Section 703 is not required by Indiana Code, nor are there any plans by the Indiana State Department of Health to make such a rule. Of the 92 counties in Indiana, only one county (LaPorte County) has passed an ordinance similar (but less restrictive) to Section 703. LaPorte County does require septic inspections for property transfers, but they only require repairs for failing septic systems as defined in 410 IAC 6.8.3. LaPorte County does not require upgrades for any systems that are not failing as part of a property transfer.

Section 703 of our proposed ordinance goes much further by requiring systems that are not failing to be upgraded. Not all systems will need to be upgraded, but if you have an older system, if your home has more bedrooms than is on your property card, or if our health department calls your office, den or loft a bedroom, you should be prepared to upgrade your system or make monetary concessions prior to selling your home if this ordinance passes.

An informed decision cannot be made on such a complicated topic with two sentences and a verbal explanation from the health department. The details should be in the ordinance so that there is no confusion on what is being approved and how it will be implemented and administered. LaPorte County, whose ordinance covers only failing septic systems and well testing, created a stand-alone ordinance that is five pages.

Allen County has a process in place that I can support. Potential sellers are required to complete a septic disclosure form which is required to be supplied to potential buyers. The disclosure includes known information about the property’s septic system and encourages potential buyers to have septic inspections/evaluations. The completed disclosures are supplied to the health department for all property transfers, which, over time, will improve the health department’s records. This type of process educates and protects buyers, while leaving the decision of inspections with the buyer and not the county. If our health department’s goal is to educate and protect buyers, as they’ve stated, this process would do just that without mandating inspections.

For our county to require upgrades to systems that are not failing as part of a property transfer, regardless of the reasoning, should not be approved. I’ve not located any other state or county that requires septic systems to be upgraded at the time of a property transfer if they are not failing.

Documented failing septic systems are a health hazard and they must be repaired or replaced. A system that is not failing is not a health hazard.

I can only hope that at least two of the commissioners recognize the overreach and gross shortcomings of Section 703 as written.

If you are not in favor of section 703 or any other section of the proposed septic ordinance (published in the Marketplace legals section of this week’s paper), I strongly encourage you to let your commissioners know.

Dave Anderson: andersond@browncounty-in.us

Diana Biddle: biddled@browncounty-in.us

Jerry Pittman: pittmanj@browncounty-in.us

Commissioners office: 812-988-4901

Brad Williamson, Brown County

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