County seeks funding to assist homeowners with septic system upgradesThe Carlton County Board approved the latest in a series of measures Tuesday to seek money to assist residents in upgrading non-conforming home septic systems.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
The Carlton County Board approved the latest in a series of measures Tuesday to seek money to assist residents in upgrading non-conforming home septic systems. According to Paul Gassert, auditor/treasurer, the county plans to apply for $40,000 in funding through the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) through its Clean Water Legacy Act. The grant is designed to protect the state’s ground and surface water from the impacts of substandard residential septic systems.
The program is only the latest measure in the county’s efforts to assist homeowners in bringing their septic systems in to compliance. By way of background, Gassert explained that some 10-12 years ago the county – realizing that an increasing number of septic systems were aging – secured a low-interest loan in the amount of $50,000 from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to assist individuals with septic system upgrades.
That initial money was pretty much gone right away, said Gassert.
Today, that revolving loan program continues to be administered through the Soil and Water Conservation District and requires that interested parties go through an application process similar to applying for a bank loan.
More recently, the county decided to start up its own loan program to assist home owners to upgrade failing septic systems. And while there are fewer qualifications to be met in this program, Gassert said it is “the program of last resort” for those in need of assistance, since the county actually takes a lien on the applicant’s property in order to help guarantee repayment is made. Gassert said the county currently funds about two to three upgrades a year through this program.
The most recent “Local Fix-up Fund” grants, as they are called by the MPCA, have specific criteria for properties receiving the funds. First, the individual property must have been issued a Notice of Noncompliance, stating that its septic system is deemed to be an imminent threat to public health or fails to protect the surrounding groundwater.
Second, funding will only be provided to homesteaded, single-family homes or duplexes.
Third, qualified homeowners must be considered low-income by USDA standards, though counties can consider utilizing a sliding scale based on income.
If the full $40,000 in funding is approved, the county estimates that five septic system upgrades can be completed in the initial round of funding.
Both Gassert and County Water Planner Heather Cunningham said it is difficult to determine just how many of the county’s septic systems are substandard – only residences located along shorelines are mandated to have inspections at the time of sale – but an increasing number of banks are also requiring septic system inspections before approving home loans. Cunningham reported that of 94 inspections conducted by the county on homes with existing septic systems in 2011, 15 of them – or 16 percent – failed to pass inspection. Given the average age of homes in Carlton County, and with the average design life of a septic system at 20-30 years, Cunningham said there are likely to be many others who fall into the category of either non-complying or failing systems.
County application for the grant funding, which ranges from $14,000 to $40,000, is due by June 22. If secured, applications for the funds will be advertised as soon as possible, hopefully sometime this summer, according to Gassert. All funds must be expended by June 30, 2014.
In other business to come before the board, Carlton County Economic Development Director Pat Oman announced that the county has been notified it is the recipient of a $99,000 capital grant through the Rural Business Enterprise Grants (RBEG) program. Administered through the Minnesota office of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the funding can be used for predesign, design, acquisition of land or buildings, construction, furnishing and equipping new and renovated buildings and infrastructure. Oman said the money will be used to create a revolving loan fund for these purposes. A $50,000 match is required on behalf of the county, which Oman said will come from the economic development budget. This is the third USDA award secured by the county in the past three years.
Commissioners unanimously supported a modification to the Carlton County Economic Development Authority (EDA) Enabling Resolution to reflect that townships now have the right to either opt in or opt out of participation in the EDA.
The board approved new rates for the disposal of electronics at the Carlton County Transfer Station. Overall, the rates reflect a reduction from past rates. For example, the cost of recycling a 25-inch console television will now go down from $13.60 to $2, a computer with a 19-inch monitor will go from $5.60 to $2 and a fax machine will go down from $1.15 to $1.
Commissioners approved the expenditure of $2,150 to repair the steps of the Carlton County Historical Society and $5,200 to repair damage to the plaster and lap of the building. Oman was directed to see if either or both projects would qualify for Small Cities Grant funding.
Finally, Oman requested board approval for him to travel to a conference in Chicago in July to learn about manufacturing opportunities tied to the emerging North Dakota oil field industry. Oman explained it is his intent to assess the demand for products manufactured locally and indicated that at least five local industries have expressed interest in the opportunities presented in that area. Commissioner Dick Brenner questioned whether it is the job of the county’s economic development director to provide those types of services to specific industries and manufacturers, adding he believes those industries should contribute toward the cost of Oman’s attendance at the conference if they hope to benefit from it. Oman argued that prospect marketing is indeed within the role of local economic development and said that contacting all potential businesses for buy-in would require an undue amount of time and effort for his department. In the end, the board approved Oman’s travel expenses for the trip to the conference with the understanding that Oman would request – but not require – financial backing from parties interested in benefitting from his time the