TO: VACo Community Development and Planning Steering Committee
FROM: Erik Johnston, Director of Government Affairs
SUBJECT: Final Recommendations Regarding Onsite Septic Program Released
CC: VACo Finance Steering Committee, VACo Environment and Agriculture Steering Committee
The stakeholder advisory group convened by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) to make recommendations on the appropriate level of private sector participation in the onsite septic program released a final report on January 2. The Stakeholder Advisory Committee on Safety and Health in Facilitating a Transition (SHIFT) was composed of 25 individuals representing nine interest groups, including VACo, which met five times between July and November 2013.
The two most important consensus recommendations by the group were that VDH should continue its work as the regulatory oversight agency for the onsite septic program and that it should encourage (not mandate) the use of private sector providers of services for soil evaluation and design work. The remaining five consensus statements are strategies for achieving the preceding two recommendations.
Most of the onsite sewage system professionals involved in the process advocated for a transition of all soil evaluation and design work to the private sector in all regions of the state. VACo worked with other stakeholders groups to successfully oppose this proposed mandated change. Instead, VACo supported the recommendation of allowing VDH to encourage greater private sector participation, while maintaining VDH’s capacity to provide these services. This policy is important to continuing the current practice of allowing localities and regions to encourage the right amount of private sector participation appropriate for their specific circumstances. The amount of private sector participation already varies widely between regions of the Commonwealth due to different local and regional circumstances.
Despite opposition from key stakeholder groups during the SHIFT process, there are likely to be legislative proposals such as HB 409 (Webert), which seek to mandate privatization of direct services. VACo opposes this bill in its current form and any other efforts that would no longer offer citizens the option to obtain soil evaluation and design services directly from VDH.
VACo membership adopted a policy at the 2013 Annual Conference that calls for maintaining a public sector role in the onsite septic program. The policy states that “VACo supports a program at the Virginia Department of Health that protects public health and the environment in all regions of the Commonwealth. The state’s program should allow localities to develop and implement policies that support the state’s program. VACo supports the private sector providing onsite sewage system design, installation and repair services, as long as the services can be provided at affordable rates and in a timely manner, and as long as VDH continues to provide these direct services as well.”
Several counties and planning district commissions commented formally to the SHIFT advisory committee and others participated in the SHIFT meetings. Many of these localities expressed support for VDH’s role in working to protect public and environmental health and urged opposition to proposals to end VDH’s role in providing direct services for soil evaluation and design. To view the SHIFT final report, click here.