Polk raising health service fees

Published 8:00 am Friday, July 20, 2018

County has 2-month backlog for some permits

COLUMBUS — Some health district fees for Polk County residents have risen for services such as septic and well inspections.

The Polk County Board of Commissioners met Monday and approved the new fee schedule, which includes increases to septic and well inspections, from $350 to $400.

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Commissioners heard from Rutherford, Polk, McDowell Health District Director Karen Powell, who said the increases are needed to hire more inspectors and to hopefully increase their salaries to retain more employees.

There is a two-month backlog at the moment for some inspections in Polk County, as the area, in spite having a smaller population, has more permit requests than Rutherford and McDowell counties, Powell said.

Powell said it’s important to keep up with market rates and Rutherford, Polk and McDowell fees are very low compared to other counties.

“This helps us be competitive in recruiting and keeping staff,” Powell said. “These fees are the only way to generate funds to fund the program.”

Commissioner Tommy Melton wanted assurance, with Polk running two months behind, that raising the fees would help the district get caught up. Powell said without raising the fees, the district cannot add money to the budget to pay more to inspectors.

“I’m getting calls from real estate agents that they can’t get the permits approved,” Melton said.

Powell said the district has advertised for employees for a year, and it is hard to find people who want to do the job and are certified.

“It’s a chronic issue of dealing with this and having the employees to support septic and wells in particular,” said Commissioner Ray Gasperson, a member of the health district board. “It comes up in every meeting.”

Gasperson said the employees will not necessarily be just for Polk County, but for the entire district.

“I’m not in favor of raising fees, but it’s a chronic need,” he said. “Even at $400, we’re still lower for septic systems than other counties at $450.”

Gasperson also said he is concerned about the system collapsing.

“This isn’t going to solve everything, and it’s not going to do it overnight,” he said.

Rutherford County has also approved the fee increases, but McDowell County has not.

Powell said she hopes to get two specialists hired for Polk County, instead of only one currently on staff.

Powell also said the increase in fees can also help bring in more temporary help. She said the district currently has five contractors who come in on the weekends, and the district is going to start advertising for more contract work to help get caught up on permits.

The increase in fees will only be for new permits applied for. Permits on the books have already been paid.

Other fee increases include for new food establishment plan review, from $200 to $250; public swimming pool plan review, from $200 to $275; and annual public swimming pool permitting and inspection, from $100 to $200.

A full list of fee changes can be found at the online version of this article, at TryonDailyBulletin.com.