Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 12, 2012

Septage fees may rise

Charges could go up to help cover financial losses at county septage plant


TRAVERSE CITY — Septic tank owners could see the cost of disposing of their waste increase by 50 percent next year.

The Grand Traverse County Board of Public Works will consider boosting the price of septage treatment from 12 cents a gallon to 18 cents a gallon to cover financial losses at the county septage plant.

Owners of holding tanks face an increase from 4 cents to 5 cents a gallon. The rate increase would replace a proposed — and widely panned — special assessment of about $25 a year on properties with a septic tank.

The BPW will meet Thursday at 9 a.m. in the Garfield Township Hall to consider the price increase. The price change would take effect 30 days after the vote.

"The special assessment, I don't see it moving forward any time soon, so what other option is there?" said Jack Kelly, Elmwood Township supervisor and member of the BPW. "It's highly controversial."

In October, about 400 people showed up to a scheduled public hearing on the special assessment. The crowd overflowed the meeting room and forced the BPW to suspend the meeting while it reassessed its options.

Nine rural townships also filed suit against the BPW to prevent the assessment. The suit was dropped after the public hearing was cancelled.

Kelly said septic tanks users told BPW members they preferred a rate increase over a special assessment.

"You pay as you go," he said. "If you pump, you pay. If you don't pump, you don't pay."

Marvin Radtke, a Green Lake Township trustee who represents the rural township on the BPW, opposed the price increase during committee meetings.

Radtke said he objected because those who use holding tanks should pay the full 6.5 cents a gallon it costs to treat holding tank waste. He believes higher prices will discourage pumping.

"Some people live paycheck-to-paycheck and they just can't afford to pump out their system, and so they wait until it does fail," Radtke said.

Radtke also opposes a special assessment. He said officials from the five townships that guaranteed the septage plant's financial success need to absorb losses estimated at $200,000 a year.

Garfield, East Bay, Acme, Peninsula, and Elmwood Township in Leelanau County pledged to cover any of the long-troubled plant's financial shortfalls.

The BPW opted for the lower holding tank charge because those sewage devices often are pumped monthly. A higher fee would be too much of a financial hardship on holding tank owners, BPW officials said.

County officials expect that a price increase means fewer people will have their tanks pumped. They included an estimated revenue loss in their price calculations.

Even some supporters are skeptical that the price increase will work.

"I don't want to be negative, so let's just say I am reserving judgement," said Chuck Korn, Garfield supervisor and BPW member. "It might get us there, and I'd be thrilled if it did."