The Eaton County Board of Commissioners has on its Aug. 16 agenda a resolution “strongly recommending” they rescind its participation in the TOST regulation administered by the combined Barry Eaton District Health Department (BEDHD).
Depending on the votes of commissioners, dropping the controversial regulation will create many questions that will quickly demand answers.
Barry County residents have complained of the regulation mandating inspection of on-site septic and water systems and replacement of systems deemed failing before the sale or transfer of property in Barry and Eaton counties.
The resolution from Eaton County Commission’s Health and Human Services Committee and put on the agenda by its chair Barbara Rogers, first surfaced in late May, but did not appear on the county commission agenda until now.
Eaton County officials contacted the first week in June either did not know about the resolution or said they had heard some talk, but had seen nothing on paper.
Pointing to large budget deficits for 2018 and recognizing, “this is just the beginning of reductions by the county,” the committee’s resolution gave, “its strong recommendation that Eaton County immediately cease participation in the Time Of Sale or Transfer (T.O.S.T) program, thereby eliminating its cost of staffing and other associated costs of implementation, management and operation.”
Meanwhile, in a move prompted by Barry County Commission Chairman Ben Geiger, a public survey, available until Sept. 30 and an Aug. 22 public meeting will let commissioners hear Barry County resident’s opinions on TOST. Geiger has said the views of constituents are expected to drive improvements in TOST when they are brought to the health board which oversees the combined health department.
The health board is made up of three commissioners from each county. Geiger, the health board chair, and Commissioners David Jackson and Dan Parker represent Barry County. Eaton County Commissioners Jane Whitacre, Vice Chair Blake Mulder and Joe Brehler serve their county on the board.
Some of the unanswered questions depending on which way the Eaton County commissioners vote:
If Eaton County does not rescind TOST:
* Will that impact Barry County’s participation and the plans already in motion?
If Eaton County does rescind its participation in TOST:
* Will approval ramp up calls to separate Barry County from the BEDHD and maintain its own health department?
* How will it affect the BEDHD operations? It’s budget?
* Can Eaton County legally drop TOST by simple resolution?
* How much money does Eaton County forecast they will save in a year?
* How much money will BEDHD lose in a year?
* Can/will the BEDHD administer the program in just Barry County?
* How will Barry County commissioners respond to certain renewed pressure to also rescind the regulation?
* How many wells and septic systems have been deemed failed during TOST in Barry County and Eaton County, and at how much cost to property owners in both counties?
* Is the upcoming change in the division of financial support by the counties of the combined departments a factor in the recommendation?
* Are there any estimates available on how much it would cost to have a separate Barry County Health Department? //
Vocal critics have been to Barry County Commission meetings repeatedly since the program’s inception 10 years ago complaining about the regulation that was meant to assure clean water and adequate septic service to county residents and protect the environment.
Many maintained that the regulation was being unevenly and arbitrarily enforced, that working systems that had adequate water and sewer were condemned and replacement forced, the fees charged are a burden for property owners, that a regulation with the force of law is unconstitutional and that the health department uses the regulation to bring all systems up to the present day codes, which is prohibited in the regulation.
When Barry County residents protested the health department’s administration of the regulation, they asked and, at times demanded, that Barry County commissioners rescind it. They were told the county attorney’s opinion was there was no legal mechanism to repeal it and so there was nothing they could do.
The Eaton County TOST resolution reads:
WHEREAS, Eaton County is facing a large budget deficit for fiscal year 2018 and;
WHEREAS, the Eaton County Board of Commissioners have tasked each committee, subcommittee and board with budget reductions and;
WHEREAS, the Health and Human Services committee also recognizes that this is only the beginning of such reductions and;
WHEREAS, the Health and Human Services committee recognizes the seriousness of this task and has given due diligence to this decision, therefore be it
RESOLVED, that the Health and Human Services Committee makes its strong recommendation that Eaton County immediately cease participation in the Time Of Sale or Transfer (T.O.S.T) program thereby eliminating its cost of staffing and other associated costs of implementation, management and operation.