State septic repair funds drying up

LISBON – Columbiana County commissioners are seeking another round of state funding to repair septic systems for income-eligible households but the amount keeps dwindling and is expected to disappear altogether next year.

Commissioners agreed at Wednesday’s meeting to give county Health Commissioner Wes Vins authorization to apply for a $56,000 grant from the Ohio Water Pollution Control Loan Fund program to repair and/or replace malfunctioning residential septic systems.

Vins said the money should be enough to take on six to eight septic systems, depending on how many are

replaced or just need repaired, which is down from the 15 household systems they are in the process of repairing this year. The reason is the county’s grant allocation was cut by nearly two-thirds from the $154,000 awarded for this year and the $160,000 received to repair 17 septic systems in 2012.

The county also received $236,000 in federal stimulus money in 2009 to repair 31 septic systems.

Vins said the state is contemplating ending its program after 2014 and redirecting the septic repair money elsewhere. “It’s been such a successful program that we’re very concerned if they eliminate it next year,” he told commissioners.

Although it is called a loan program, Vins said it is actually a grant, which the homeowner is not required to repay. Households earning between 100 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($23,550 to $47,100 for a family of four) are required to contribute 15 percent toward the cost, while those households below 100 percent pay nothing.

Vins said there are many people in this county who simply cannot afford what it takes to repair their septic system, let alone install a new one. “This money gives them the opportunity to fix their system for which there would be no other way,” he said.

The health department works from a list of malfunctioning septic systems and hires private contractors to do the work. The Community Action Agency assists by determining income eligibility of the applicants, a service it provides for free since none of the grant money can be used for administration.

“It’s such a great program, and I appreciate the partnership with county commissioners and the Community Action Agency,” Vins said.