Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 27, 2013

Editorial: Ruling clears way for septage plan

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — Now that a state appeals court has upheld East Bay Township’s septage control ordinance, which requires treatment of all septic tank waste at the Grand Traverse County septage treatment plant, it’s time for Grand Traverse county to move to create a fair and permanent financial plan for the $7.8 million albatross.

Because every township in the county, plus Elmwood Township in Leelanau County, has identical septage control ordinances to East Bay’s, it can be safely assumed that all septic haulers will — eventually — have to take all septic tank waste to the county plant to be processed. Without the ruling, haulers could have continued to take waste out of the area instead of to the plant. Now, though, the county should be able to better estimate how much waste — and revenue — the plant will bring in from year to year.

That will help create a reasonably accurate revenue estimate which, in turn, will help the county figure out how much more revenue it has to find to break even. The best and fairest way to find that revenue is to establish an annual assessment on all septic tanks in the county and reduce the plant’s per-gallon treatment rate, which is now the highest in the state.

The assessment idea has been around for a long time, but none of the politicians involved — from the county’s board of public works to the county board — have had the political courage to enact one. Opposition has come mostly from the county’s more rural townships, where virtually every home and business is on a septic system or has a holding tank.

Rural township residents have argued that because the area’s five metro townships — Garfield, Acme, East Bay, Peninsula and Elmwood — agreed to be financially responsible for the plant they should not be on the hook. But that was before a portion of the plant collapsed and it was determined that wildly inflated revenue estimates meant the plant could never break even. And that argument ignores the fact that the plant was built to service septic system owners who will soon have no legal alternate ways to dispose of the waste they generate.

The fairest way to proceed now is to levy an assessment — earlier estimated at a nominal $35 per year — on every septic and holding tank system in the county and then adjust the per-gallon treatment rate to create a revenue stream adequate to pay off the bonds used to build the plant.

Those whose homes are hooked to a sewage treatment plant — including everyone in Traverse City and most metro township homeowners — pay to hook up to the system and then pay a monthly amount. To ask them to continue to help underwrite the septage treatment plant through expenditures from the county’s general fund is unfair. Users must pay their own way, and this is the fairest way to do that.