Brittney Burns – Staff Writer
Administration staff at the health department get requests for records often and works to meet the requests in a timely manner. Recent changes to the types of records being requested for waste water research has placed a burden on the health department’s staff and leadership is looking at a way to address the issue.
According to Macon County Health Department Director Jim Bruckner, Macon County isn’t alone in the problem, but is something health departments across the state are facing due to changes in information needed by realtors and home owners. A recent change to listing requirements by realtors now requires homeowners to provide proof of a home’s waste water system and permits before being able to list the home for sale. According to Bruckner, homes were being listed as 3 or 4 bedrooms, but were only permitted for a waste water system of 1 or 2 bedrooms, causing problems after homes were sold. Realtors are now required to provide documentation of the wastewater system before claiming to be a certain number of rooms. Because the health department holds waste water records, the change is causing administration staff at the department to spend more and more time searching down the appropriate records.
“The high volume of on-site waste water research requests drove the need for encouraging realtors and property owners to conduct their own research for past property owner’s information,” Kyle Jennings, MCPH’s Environmental Health Section administrator. “Environmental Health did not have the capacity to process the amount of requests received in an adequate timeframe.”
To address the issue, the board of health proposes a fee change that would require those searching for the records to pay a fee for the documents, if it required the health department to search outside of the records contained within the health department.
“The proposed change was to add a fee to the health department’s fee plan for the cost of research that Environmental Health staff was performing,” said Jennings. “This research involves searching through records maintained by the Register of Deeds, Tax and Mapping departments to find the information necessary to locate any existing septic system documentation. The proposal was to add a $15 minimum charge for research and an additional $15 for every 30 minutes of research performed by Environmental Health staff. This amount was determined based on an historical fee that was approved, but never implemented.”
Macon County Commission Chair Jim Tate expressed his concern that the fee might infringe on public records request. Rather than implement a fee, because the change is new, Tate recommended working to educate realtors and homeowners about the work involved in the research and give them an opportunity to do their own research prior to asking the board of health for documents.
“At the July board of county commissioners meeting, this proposal was tabled and the commissioners asked the county manager to investigate other potential solutions,” said Jennings. “MCPH staff continues to provide this service while working with the county manager and other county personnel, such as county mapping and county information technology staff, to find solutions that are not fee based.”
Commissioners decided to wait to implement a fee, and instead, work with realtors to address the issue.