Politics & Government

Thurston County wants to know what you think of septic fees — again

Thurston County officials took steps Tuesday to flush away a controversial plan that includes $10 annual fee for about 42,000 property owners with septic systems.

The county’s Board of Health met Tuesday and scheduled an April 11 hearing at which Thurston County residents can tell the board what they think about an ordinance to repeal the fee. The hearing will take place at 5:30 p.m. in the Thurston County Courthouse’s Building 1, Room 280.

The fee was one of the last measures imposed by the last Board of County Commissioners — which consisted of Sandra Romero, Cathy Wolfe and Bud Blake — in December. In January, commissioners John Hutchings and Gary Edwards took the places of Romero and Wolf, who retired at the end of their terms.

The Board of County Commissioners, which meets Tuesdays as the Board of Health, is now composed of independents. Blake serves as board chairman.

Romero and Wolfe touted the fee as a way to keep drinking water clean and safe.

Blake voted against the fee in December, and Edwards and Hutchings campaigned against the fee ahead of the November elections.

Interim Public Health Director Art Starry said Tuesday that the new ordinance would affect only the fee structure — not the overall septic plan. Commissioners could impose a different revenue structure or change the septic plan at a later date.

Blake said Tuesday that he doesn’t intend to dismantle the whole plan. He and the other commissioners plan to analyze it, make adjustments, then come up with a new price tag.

“We started working on it in summer, and it was done by December,” Blake said. “Even then I thought it might be coming together a little two quickly. But we don’t plan to ax the whole thing.”

As it stands, the fee applies countywide for all properties that use septic systems, even those within Lacey, Olympia and Tumwater, according to county officials. The only exception: The new fee won’t be charged to properties in the Henderson Inlet and Nisqually Reach areas that already are subject to shellfish protection district septic system rates.

The fee is $10 for septic systems at single-family homes, and was set to begin Jan. 1, 2018. Septic systems for multifamily buildings, such as duplexes and apartment houses, would be charged $10 per housing unit.

The fee would be used to pay for more staff to monitor compliance, provide outreach and implement other parts of the plan, county officials say.

One of the first actions after Hutchings and Edwards took office Jan. 3 was to ask for the resignation of Tom Stuebner, director of Public Health and Social Services. He was hired about a year ago after a national search.

The commissioners recently hired Schelli Slaughter to head Public Health and Social Services. She will start March 27.

Amelia Dickson: 360-754-5445, @Amelia_Oly