- Report Published -
|Private Sector Service Delivery for the Onsite Sewage and Water Supply Program - December 2011|
|Department of Health|
|Letter request from Delegate Lynwood W. Lewis, Jr.|
|The Division of Onsite Sewage, Water Services, Environmental Engineering, and Marina Programs, Office of Environmental Health Services (OEHS) developed a three pronged approach to collect feedback and ideas from stakeholders about the impacts of HB 2185. First, OEHS created an online survey allowing all stakeholders a chance to provide feedback. Next, OEHS visited twelve locations around the Commonwealth and invited stakeholders to share thoughts in person. Finally, OEHS conducted telephone interviews by request. In total, OEHS heard from over 350 stakeholders, including owners of sewage systems, elected officials, local county administration and staff, installers, operators, designers, realtors, builders, and VDH environmental health specialists.|
Survey respondents agreed on numerous topics. Virtually all agreed VDH was an essential participant in making sure public health and groundwater supplies were protected. Many observed VDH’s critical role in assuring adequate regulations and policies were in place to protect public health. Nearly every public meeting participant expressed the belief VDH should enforce requirements that protect public health. Other participants observed quality services must be provided in the private sector and that a “checks and balances” system was necessary to identify bad actors and subpar performance. Public meeting participants generally felt VDH should be the non-partisan reviewer of private sector work. All seemed to understand and recognize that sewage systems and water supplies must be properly designed, installed, inspected, operated, and maintained to protect the Commonwealth’s environment and health.
Despite areas of agreement, stakeholders also voiced differing ideas about the health department’s role in protecting public health and the environment. Some believed VDH should provide all onsite services, including site and soil evaluations, operation and maintenance, and designs of alternative onsite sewage systems. Others thought VDH should no longer perform any direct service. Some suggested VDH should review all work submitted by the private sector as part of the checks and balances approach. Still other stakeholders thought VDH should not perform any quality assurance or quality control evaluation of private sector work. Some participants opined health department fees for services were reasonable, while others felt they were unfair and needed change. Some service providers were willing to provide free services in limited circumstances while many were unwilling to provide any pro bono service. Mutual understanding and agreement among all stakeholders regarding how the private sector could provide all services was absent.
This report outlines five key observations and several options for protecting the Commonwealth’s health and safety and finding the best means forward to transition direct service delivery. One observation and option discusses how greater flexibility in health department fees and services would counter a “one-size fits all” approach currently being used across the Commonwealth. Increased policy flexibility with respect to fees and services would allow VDH to better address localized conditions. Another observation discusses how more private sector service providers appear to be needed in certain areas of the Commonwealth and how incentives could be considered to increase private sector participation in those areas. Another observation and option discusses how funding could be used to provide more community and decentralized sewage systems, which would likely produce savings through economies of scale while increasing private sector participation in the program.