Failing septics would be eligible for loans under Washington County plan
Washington County public health department is considering a low interest loan program that would help homeowners with failing septic systems pay to replace them.
A large geographic area of the county is served by private septic systems totaling about 50,000 residents including parts of Woodbury and Cottage Grove.
Failing septic systems are a potential source of pollution and groundwater contamination posing widespread public health concerns, said Stephanie Souter of the county’s public health department.
“This can be a costly and sometimes unexpected expense for homeowners,” she said.
Fixing a private septic system can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 depending on the location, she added.
Washington County officials discussed a new program that would assess the value of newly installed septic systems to the homeowners’ taxes at a Nov. 26 workshop.
The program would be a partnership between the county and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture Best Management Practice program which has $10 million in revolving federal and state funds.
Homeowners would submit a $25,000 certificate of deposit to secure the loan that comes with a 1.5 percent interest rate over a five-year period.
Souter said the application process would start with the Housing and Redevelopment Authority conducting financial reviews and tracking payments. The county would then add the loan amount to property taxes and then pay the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
The loan program would be available to all homeowners and businesses regardless of income or assets, Souter said.
“As long as the project is eligible, they’re able to fund it,” she said.
Having the county as the local lender eliminates hurdles homeowners have previously gone through with other entities that only provided loans based on income, or through banks that were located within unreasonable travel distances, she said.
Washington County public health often discovers failing sewage treatment systems at the time of sale when properties are being transferred from one homeowner to another.
Inspections are required at that time under a county ordinance that was passed in 2009 as a way to regulate noncompliant systems.
The ordinance requirement to replace or fix septics at the time of sale has helped some homeowners who might be short on cash to use the home buying process with additional loans and cash flow opportunities to fix problems before transfer of ownership.
Officials say without the ordinance it’s difficult to spot problems, especially if homeowners don’t see any signs of backups.
Commissioner Gary Kriesel said fixing about 2,000 failing septic systems in the county would cost up to $15 million, and proposed approaching the Legislature for statewide legislation to protect water quality.
“We’re soiling our own drinking water with this,” he said. “I think we’ve got to drive that up to the state.”
Public Health Director Lowell Johnson said the loan program is a work in progress with partnerships with the South Washington Watershed District, the HRA and potentially homeowners associations that may be interested in voluntary inspections.
“Most people don’t think it’s failing unless something is backing up in their house,” he said. “They think it’s fine.”
A proactive approach could help eliminate contamination and public health concerns, Johnson added.