About 53,000 homes in Thurston County are on septic systems, and those property owners could soon face a new annual fee.
On Tuesday evening, in their role as the Board of Health, the Thurston County commissioners voted 2-1 to approve updates to the county’s on-site septic system management plan.
Commissioners Cathy Wolfe and Sandra Romero voted in support of the plan. Commissioner Bud Blake voted against it.
“I want to go on record and say I support septic and water quality and the things we’re talking about tonight,” he said. “I just don’t think it’s necessary right now and the county’s business. I think it’s more a convenience than it is a necessity in terms of the lineup of things that we do here at the county.”
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Romero said Thurston County has the second highest number of septic systems in the state, following Spokane County.
“We have 53,000 individual septic operators,” she said. “It’s like having little mini sewage treatment plants in the county without any standards set in place. … We need a plan.”
Wolfe said the county has been working on the septic plan updates for three years.
“I do feel that passing this resolution to adopt a plan is absolutely crucial to ensuring our good water quality here in Thurston County over the long haul,” she said.
Thurston County Environmental Health Director Art Starry said state law requires the county to develop a written management plan for septic tanks and identify areas where septic tanks could pose an increased public health risk. It’s also required to monitor septic usage in sensitive areas such as properties near Puget Sound, he said.
“The plan asks us to enforce septic system permit requirements, including monitoring and maintenance and working to find and repair failing septic systems,” Starry told the Board of Health.
The plan includes a tiered fee structure that ranges from $22 to $66 a year, depending on the location of the septic system and documented water-quality problems in the area. In some cases, certain fees that now are associated with septic tanks in the county would be canceled out if the new fee structure is adopted, Starry said.
The Board of Health voted 2-1, with Blake voting nay, to schedule a public hearing on the proposed fees at 6 p.m. Dec. 6.
The fees are the part of the plan that drew the most ire from numerous residents who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting.
“I cannot seeing any justification for imposing a tax on me year after year,” said Elizabeth Wynia of Yelm. “I’m not in violation.”
Jeremie Countryman of Rochester said he thinks the county should focus its efforts on education about septic maintenance versus regulation. Much of that information is already available online for free for homeowners, he said.
“I’m just a simple guy living in a simple world, but I can see B.S. when I see it,” he said. “And to tax somebody for no reason is kind of pointless.”
If you go
The Board of Health has scheduled a public hearing on the proposed fees for the updated on-site septic system management plan at 6 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Thurston County Courthouse Building 1, Room 280, 2000 Lakeridge Dr. SW, Olympia.