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Second phase of septic system rollout to begin

YOUNGSTOWN — The third set of Mahoning County townships will get mailings the first week of July telling them it’s their turn to enroll in the new operation and maintenance program for septic systems in Mahoning County.

Mahoning County’s health department, known as Mahoning County Public Health, sent letters to the first two groups of townships during the first half of the year.

Southern-tier townships of Berlin, Smith, Goshen and Green will receive letters just after July 1 with information about coming into the program. The final group will be the townships of Beaver and Springfield, which will get their letters starting in early October.

The Jan. 1 group inclludes the townships of Austintown, Jackson, Milton and Coitsville and a small number of septic owners in Youngstown, Struthers and Campbell. The rollout was April 1 for the townships of Boardman, Canfield, Poland and Ellsworth.

“We’re already about halfway through the program,” said Colton Masters, the county’s director of environmental health. Mahoning County Public Health received a respectable 75 percent compliance rate from septic owners in the first two groups, he said.

“People who contacted us, got us their signed contracts, people who paid the fee if they had to pay the fee this year — we’re at about 75 percent. That’s actually better than what I was anticipating based on feedback I got from other counties,” Masters said.

The Vindicator outlined the program last November, following two public hearings that no members of the public attended. Septic systems treat household sewage in areas without public sewer systems.

Masters said after the word got out about the new program, some property owners reached out to the health department and started the process of getting into it before even receiving a letter.

“A lot of people have actually known what is going to happen and know their system’s been failing” and took the step of getting into the program on their own,” Masters said.

“They may not get their letter until October or July, but they’ve already pulled permits and said, ‘I just want to pay a contractor. I just want to have this fixed before this becomes a bigger issue.'” Masters said some septic contractors have said customers are just calling them directly before receiving letters.

GOING WELL

Masters said the rollout has gone well, but the health department’s environmental staff has been having meetings to look at the most oft-asked questions about the program to improve the language in the letters.

“We want to make it easier for people to understand,” Masters said. “There have been some questions that have come up over and over, so the language in the letters has been revised to better address those issues.”

He said Mahoning County Public Health is “always there to field phone calls,” and the environmental staff can also talk to residents at the health department offices at 50 Westchester Drive in Austintown. The phone number is 330-270-2855.

“I don’t want people left out there in the dark. We want to help to answer any questions people have,” Masters said. The first few weeks of the rollouts have been the busiest time for questions, he said.

“I think most people understand the significance and point of it, even if they are not happy with it,” Masters said of the program. “They understand why we are doing it and why we have to do this.”

Masters said he cannot yet provide data on the percentage of people who are having to do a complete replacement or upgrade to their septic system. He said he will have better data next year, including the number of new systems installed in 2022.

ONLINE METHODS

The health department added an online system to the operation and maintenance program a few months ago to better accommodate those people who prefer that method of participating.

“This has actually helped us out a ton,” Masters said. “It’s helped people get the payment to us or the documents to us without having to come to the health department.”

The letters the health department sends to septic system owners provide a code the property owner can use to set up an account online. The account can be used to pay fees, to provide septic-system inform 0ation and contact information.

“You can do all that without having to come into the department and actually talk to us,” Masters said. “We started it up during the April rollout, and we have gotten quite a bit of good feedback,” he said.

“We need to be able to meet the needs of all of the generations out there,” Masters said of septic owners. “We have people on a regular basis who let us know, ‘We don’t have internet access,'” he said. “That’s OK. You can still send us in information in the mail. You can still come in in person. ”

erunyan@vindy.com

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