The Thurston County Commissioners, in their role as the Board of Health, unanimously voted 3-0 Tuesday night to repeal a controversial $10 fee that would have affected about 42,000 property owners with septic systems.
State law requires the county to implement a plan for management of on-site sewage systems. Last fall, the Board of Health adopted the Thurston County On-Site Sewage System Management Plan Update. In December, the Board of Health passed an ordinance that created an annual $10 fee for most septic owners, with the support of now-retired Democratic commissioners Cathy Wolfe and Sandra Romero.
Board of Health and Board of County Commissioners chairman Bud Blake voted against the fee, and his two new seatmates, Commissioners John Hutchings and Gary Edwards, campaigned against it.
The vote followed a more than hour-long standing room only public hearing, where more than 20 people testified.
Some speakers said they supported the fee and on-site sewage system plan, saying $10 was a bargain to protect drinking water, shellfish and the Puget Sound.
“I think that the educational component of this, going to people in the county (and) knowing what is expected of them, is important and I’m certainly willing to pay a $10 fee,” said Ramona Hinkle, a South Bay area resident.
“What we have here in Thurston County and tend to take for granted is infinitely precious: Olympia — it’s the water,” said Esther Kronenberg, who lives in the Cooper Point area. “It’s our responsibility to protect and safeguard it.”
Several opponents of the fee said they feel property owners can monitor their own septic systems, and that they already pay hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars, to maintain those systems.
In addition, many said they were skeptical of the county’s estimated failure rates, and that its fee would stay at $10.
“As a state worker I can tell you, once you announce a fee it will always go up,” said Bobbie Hatton, a Yelm area resident.
“I urge you to appeal the septic tank tax — I call it the tank tabs,” said Ken Morse, an on-site septic designer who lives near Lacey. “…I think you need different leadership in your departments to get the job done and get it done right without burdening us with unnecessary regulations or new taxes.”
After the public hearing, Blake asked county staff a couple of questions about the fee, which was set to begin in 2018 and would have been incorporated into property tax statements. However, the commissioners did not discuss the fee before voting on an ordinance to kill it.