The trials of taxing the tanks

By Marla Boone - Contributing columnist

You just have to feel sorry for taxes. The very word is harsh on the tongue and immediately evokes a negative response. It’s the entity everyone loves to hate. Elections have been won (George Bush claiming, “Watch my lips. No new taxes.”) and lost (George Bush claiming, “Watch my lips. No new taxes.” followed very closely with “Oops. Except for this one.”) over the promise of lower/no/refunded taxes.

My dad is especially disdainful of taxes. A child of the depression, his goal in life is to hang onto every cent he has. He has been heard to complain that the government taxes this and taxes that and taxes everything except going to the bathroom. (My dad, of course, did not use the delicate terminology “going to the bathroom.” He used a far more colorful phrase that won’t get past the editors of a family newspaper.)

It is easy to agree with someone who makes this much sense. Yup, everything is taxed except that private trip to the loo. Except it’s not. Exempt, that is. Rural living has a lot going for it: fresh air, plenty of space, quiet, and a septic tank. It’s that septic tank in question today. Here is what I know about septic tanks. When they work, they’re great. When they don’t work, repairs entail a back hoe, people with shovels, and a strong stomach. Thankfully, I have not experienced the back hoe/shovel/stomach trifecta. And now maybe I know why.

According to the Miami County Public Health Department, my septic tank was installed in October of 1972. Also according to the Miami County Public Health Department, I have been paying for an operation permit (which is a tax by another name) for many years since. I hesitate to mention I have no memory of ever paying for a septic tank permit before. One can only hope there is a statute of limitations on these things. Apparently, our state lawmakers roused themselves from their usual in-fighting to enact the Ohio Administrative Code (OAC) 3701-29 which are The Sewage Treatment Systems Rules. Who says there is no bipartisanship? Just to prove irony isn’t dead, they were able to find common ground in sewage.

Once I plowed through the language of the letter (“The following permit requirements for your next renewal, not this renewal…”) I still couldn’t figure out what this was about. As I mentioned, I frequently can’t remember what I had for breakfast so the notion of recalling a communication I received five years ago is beyond the capabilities of my memory banks. I shudder to think how many brain cells I have tied up in things like knowing how to program a VCR. And how do I delete that particular file?

In any event, I called the public health department about my permit puzzlement. The people there are unfailingly nice, even when a “helpful” neighbor, unbeknownst to me, once turned off the spigot the department was coming to test. It’s very difficult to test water when the water is turned off. Much jocularity and many phone calls (and a repeat fee) ensued. But they were nice about it. The other prevailing emotion at the public health department is, thankfully, dead seriousness about the quality of our water. It’s not a glamorous job but these folks do as much good for us as just about anyone. Nonetheless, I was borderline incredulous that I needed a permit to have a septic tank. It was my dad’s worst nightmare come true.

Again citing the letter, some septic systems come with instructions from the manufacturer concerning maintenance of the system. I simply cannot imagine what would be involved in writing septic tank maintenance instructions. It does not sound like a career path I would like to pursue but I have amused myself with designing business cards for those in the trade. “Poo R Us.” “Don’t Poo-Poo What We Do.” The possibilities for literal potty humor are almost endless. The letter also referred to two “very informative” videos on how your septic system works and some DIY (!) information as to how to maintain and improve the performance of your septic system. These are YouTube videos and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that someone actually posted a video on how to work on your own septic system. You can learn to do just about anything by watching YouTube.

It seems the money generated from the permits funds the health department’s efforts to improve ground and surface waters and to remove untreated or partially treated household sewage from rivers and streams. Since many of us wade and fish in those streams and all of us drink water from the aquifer, this is wonderful news. The people who do this work really are unsung heroes who are providing a vital service.

I am willing to do my part. I sent a check. But I draw the line at watching those videos.

By Marla Boone

Contributing columnist

Marla Boone resides in Covington and writes for the Troy Daily News and Piqua Daily Call.

Marla Boone resides in Covington and writes for the Troy Daily News and Piqua Daily Call.