Polk to research starting own health district

Published 8:00 am Thursday, January 24, 2019

Rutherford Polk McDowell district 7 weeks behind on septic permits

COLUMBUS — Polk County is going to research if it is feasible to create its own health district.

The move to do a study came after the Rutherford Polk McDowell Health Department was, at one time last year, 12 weeks behind on septic permits. The agency is now down to seven weeks behind.

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The Polk County Board of Commissioners met Monday and heard from Rutherford Polk McDowell Health Department Director Karen Powell.

Commissioners also heard from several real estate agents, who said the delay makes it difficult on sales.

Powell said, as of Jan. 16, the health department is running seven weeks behind on septic permits, which is down from the previous 12 weeks behind. Polk County agreed last year to increase fees for permits, and the district has since filled all positions.

Commissioner Vice Chair Myron Yoder said he understands the position Powell is in, but he sees contractors every day and talks with real estate agent.

“Our citizens have been complaining about this for two years or more than that,” Yoder said. “They come to us. The buck stops with you. It has not [gotten] any better.”

Yoder said when the county increased the fees for septic and well permits Powell said they would bring in other inspectors on weekends. The vice chair asked Powell why the backlog has not gotten any better.

Powell said in September, the backlog was 12 weeks, and she does very much appreciate Polk County increasing the fees.

Powell explained that besides fees, the district does not get any more funding for the permit program. She said for the first quarter, the district is roughly $100,000 in the hole for environmental health, and the fees do not cover the salaries. There are currently two inspectors for Polk County.

“It’s getting better,” Powell said. “Seven weeks sounds like a long time but, as we whittle that down, it gets better and better. I think we’re doing the best we can to get that down.”

Commissioner Ray Gasperson said it has been a great conundrum. He thanked all the realtors who came to the meeting and spoke.

Gasperson serves on the health district board and said the county had its own health department years ago. He also said if Polk had its own health district and the county manager said permits were running 12 and seven weeks behind, he would be in hot water.

Gasperson suggested Polk do a thorough internal review, and other commissioners agreed. County Manager Marche Pittman said the study to see if Polk could support its own health department will take time and asked for at least three months.

Powell said her concern is for the citizens of this community. She explained that the health department does not just do well and septic permits.

“We make sure the people that live in this community are healthy and safe,” Powell said.

She asked that when commissioners talk about what the health department does that the leaders make sure they know everything the agency is responsible for.