Is there financial assistance to help property owners replace a failing system?The POWTS Replacement or Rehabilitation Program (a.k.a. “Wisconsin Fund Program”) may reimburse the property owner up to $7,000 of the POWTS replacement cost if the failing POWTS, the use of the property, the property owner meets certain income eligibility requirements and:
- The Department of Planning & Zoning has determined the failure of the POWTS prior to replacement or rehabilitation.
- The failed POWTS is not located in an area served by a public sewer system.
- The failed POWTS was installed prior July 1, 1978, and:
- Discharges sewage into surface or groundwater.
- Introduces sewage into zones of saturation which adversely affects the operation of the POWTS
- Discharges sewage to a drain tile or into zoned of bedrock
- Discharges sewage to the surface of the ground
- The failure of the POWTS to accept sewage, which in turn causes sewage to back up into the structure.
- The POWTS services a principal residence and is occupied at least 51% of the year
- The family income does not exceed $45,000.
- The POWTS services a small commercial establishment with a maximum daily waste water flow rate of less than 5,000 gallons per day.
- The annual gross revenue for the business that owns the small commercial establishment does not exceed $362,500.
- Per 2017 Wisconsin Act 59, the POWTS Replacement or Rehabilitation Program will be eliminated as of June 30, 2021.
Will there be a large number of POWTS identified as failing?
- It is expected that the Department will find POWTS that are failing, but an absolute number is hard to determine.
- POWTS that are observed to have sewage on the ground surface will be reported as failing and will most likely need to be replaced.
- Other counties that have already initiated the program have not found a large problem with failing systems.
What is the penalty for not complying?
- A late fee of $25 is proposed for failure to submit the required inspection report after a second notice is sent.
- Citations of up $200 can be issued for not submitting required inspection report.
- Citations of up to $500 can be issued for pumping sewage to the ground surface.
What level of non-compliance for reporting is expected?
- Between the years of 2013-2016, the response rate of the Holding Tank pumping hovered between 22-33%.
- The response rate for the POWTS (non-holding tank) is estimated to be around 50-60%.
- The Department would expect the response rate to significantly increase once the program is running efficiently.
What is the value of the maintenance program to a property owner?
- Economic benefit from regular maintenance by reducing risk of premature failure
- Regular maintenance will help in real estate transactions
- Preventing development of health hazards
- Preventing groundwater, drinking water and surface water contamination
What POWTS will the maintenance program apply to?
- All POWTS, including holding tanks in the County regardless of location. (i.e. Towns and Municipalities)
- Applies to homeowners, businesses, institutions and non-taxable organizations
- Privies are excluded from the requirement.
What other funding options were discussed?
The POWTS Maintenance Program is an “unfunded mandate” from the State of Wisconsin. Chippewa County, like other counties, was challenged with the question of “How should we fund the program?” The Department explored three (3) options to fund the program:
Option #1: Request Additional Tax Levy.
Spreads the cost out amongst all property owners in the County, including those without a POWTS.
Difficult to secure additional tax levy dollars for programs within Chippewa County.
Option #2: Maintenance fee billed to individual property owners.
Notices and bills mailed out to each POWTS owner on the year of their required maintenance schedule.
The collection of the notices and the associated bill would be time consuming. Other counties indicated that some property owners either sent in the pumping record without the fee or the fee without the pumping record causing additional correspondence to be sent.
Some property owners elect to pump their POWTS every two (2) years vs. every three (3) years.
Option #3: Maintenance fee attached to the yearly property tax bills.
Collection of maintenance fee is associated with the payment of the individual property tax bills.
This mechanism will require some notices to be sent out to those property owners who do have property tax bills such as churches or governmental entities.
The maintenance program has a targeted audience (i.e. POWTS owners) that is identifiable.
The Department presented these options to the County Planning & Zoning Committee. The Committee asked the Department to prepare an ordinance amendment to Chapter 62 of the Chippewa County Code of Ordinances that would allow the county to apply a $5.00 special assessment/charge on the property tax bill of each POWTS owner.
Why an annual fee for the POWTS Maintenance Program?The annual fee will be used to fund the costs associated with tracking and enforcing the POWTS Maintenance Program.
- Additional staff will be needed within the Department to assist with the program (estimated at 65% to 75% of a FTE)
- Oversee maintenance program for notifications and follow-up.
- Develop and provide public information on POWTS Maintenance and proper use.
- Provide consultation to property owners on POWTS.
- Investigate problems caused from reported failures.
- Work with individuals licensed to inspect POWTS to assure proper inspections and completing of required reports.
- Mailing of notices, entering system records and inspection data.
- Assist with administration and enforcement of other Land Use or Building Ordinances.
What is the POWTS Maintenance Program?
The Department of Planning & Zoning, per Wisconsin State Statute 145.20(5), administers a POWTS maintenance program in accordance with Wisconsin Administrative Code SPS 383. Beginning in 1985, the property owners where a new or replacement POWTS was installed were placed on a maintenance list maintained by the Department. Maintenance notices were and are sent out to all POWTS owners on a 3-year basis for all POWTS, except for holding tanks which receive a notice once a year. Depending on the size of a septic tank, most POWTS are to be inspected and/or pumped at least once every 3 years. Under certain situations, an unusual POWTS might require maintenance once every 3 months. However, no matter the time frame, a septic tank is required to be pumped when the combined depth of sludge and scum is greater than 1/3rd the entire tank volume.
The Wisconsin Statutes and Administrative Code, as of October 1, 2019, will require the County to have a comprehensive program that includes notification of required maintenance for all POWTS regardless of the year of installation. The Department will also be required to send out delinquent notices and develop processes that ensure the required inspections, evaluations, maintenance and servicing is performed at the appropriate intervals.
As noted above, the Department mails maintenance notices each calendar year to POWTS owners who meet the notification requirements. The notified owners are required to return the maintenance reports to the Department after filling out the date of inspection or pumping and the name of the pumper or inspector. Holding tank owners also need to include the dates of the pumping and the total gallons for each pumping.
The Department’s current list contains approximately 11,400 POWTS. Using the County’s GIS, the Department has estimated that there are approximately 15,000 – 17,500 POWTS in the county. Thus, there could be approximately 3,600 to 6,100 POWTS that are missing from our current electronic records that will need to be added over the next year.
What is a Private Onsite Wastewater Treatment System (POWTS)?
A Private On-site Wastewater Treatment System (POWTS) means a sewage treatment and disposal system serving structures with a septic tank and soil absorption field (Conventional, Mound, At-Grade, etc) or a holding tank. POWTS are commonly referred to as a “septic” or “septic system”.