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Grady County still holds out on increasing environmental fees

Even bringing the district director before the Grady County Commission this week failed to convince commissioners to approve a fee hike for environmental health services here.
Tuesday’s appearance by Director Dewayne Tanner of the Southwest Georgia Public Health District failed to sway enough commissioners to take any action on the proposed fee increase for the second time in as many weeks.
Grady County Environmental Health Specialist Clay Poole first met with commissioners at their Nov. 17 meeting to ask for the increase. Poole’s request was unable to gain traction after Commissioner T.D. David’s motion to approve failed to garner a second by any other commissioner.
The Southwest Georgia Public Health District is asking all 14 counties in its purview to approve consumer fee hikes to help cover the rising cost of providing services such as restaurant inspections, septic tank permits, and drinking water well testing.
“It’s important what we do,” said Mr. Tanner, “it’s not something we take lightly.”
Tanner reminded Commission Chairman LaFaye Copeland and commissioners David, Charles Norton and Ray Prince that fees have remained unchanged in Grady County since 2004. “Costs have gone up, state funds have gone down,” Tanner said. Commissioner Elwyn Childs was absent from Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Grady County Commission.
Tanner said he is going to each county commission in the 14-county district, and said five counties had already approved the fee increase.
“Let’s see how the other counties respond,” Commissioner Norton said.
“I don’t see how that affects us, Charlie,” said Commissioner David.
“That’s a state department, regardless of how you look at it,” Norton said. He also expressed displeasure at how the public health district handled an employee matter here approximately eight years ago. Tanner said he was not employed in the southwest Georgia district office at that time.
“I just didn’t want us to vote this down to try to prove a point about some dissatisfaction that happened seven or eight years ago,” said Commissioner David, “the repercussions on saying no to this increase, I don’t know what they could be. I think services could be cut back, and political ramifications – I won’t go into that, and we want good, quality service.”
Norton continued his questioning of environmental health officials Tanner and Poole, who were accompanied to the meeting by Peggy Connell, director of the Grady County Health Department, and Clarcia Avery, part-time environmental specialist for Grady County.
Norton questioned septic tank inspection costs and asked about above-ground septic systems and required testing by soil scientists. Norton said testing by soil scientists are costly to homeowners. Tanner said such testing is only required on new, undeveloped lots, or on some problem septic systems.
“We’re trying to protect ourselves from litigation, also. Yes, it’s a little bit of a burden, but I wouldn’t buy a lot without a soil scientist if it hadn’t been built on before,” Tanner said.
Commissioner David suggested, “questions about procedure can be taken up with Clay and Dewayne, but this is a different issue if we still want quality people to stay with us. With the threat of ‘dying’ again, I would like to go ahead and move again that we accept this increase.”
Once again, Commissioner David’s motion did not get a second, and the issue remained unresolved.
However, Director Tanner asked, “Once I have more counties, can I bring it (fee increase approval) back (to the Grady County Commission)?” Chairman Copeland and the other commissioners voiced their approval of that strategy.
Consumer fees that would increase for environmental health services under the district’s plan include well permit costs, which would go up $25 from $50 to $75. Tanner said the services environmental health specialists provide protect the county’s residents. The district health workers issue permits for the well, insure the well is away from a pollution source, sample individual water supplies, perform bacterial testing and talk with owners about treatment options.
Other fee hikes Tanner mentioned at the meeting included an increase in septic tank permits from $75 to $95 and food service permits to a flat fee of $150. In all, the increases are expected to bring in an extra $21,500 per year.
“The services have to be done to protect your citizens, but we’re short-staffed and it takes longer to do those services,” Tanner said. Although Clarcia Avery had retired from the local environmental health office, she has returned to her job part-time.

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