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Friday, December 2, 2022

Marion County commissioners approve program for septic-to-sewer conversion

Marion County commissioners have approved a program that will convert certain areas from septic systems to sewers.

During the Marion County Board of County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, the commissioners unanimously approved an ordinance that establishes the procedure for converting existing septic systems to sewer to help reduce pollution in the aquifer which feeds the county’s water resources and provides drinking water.

These areas in unincorporated Marion County will be designated by commissioners through a resolution. The county is currently only looking to make these septic-to-sewer conversions in areas where grant funding is available to help offset any costs to property owners.

The American Rescue Act Plan has provided $72 million in funding to Marion County, and the county is planning on using a significant portion of these funds on septic-to-sewer conversions in the Silver Springs Shores community. The county has prioritized these areas based on the impact that they have on the local aquifer and waterways.

The approved ordinance lists several actions that the county will take as it begins to make these conversions in the upcoming years:

  • The county will provide a program to take advantage of available grant funding that property owners can use to pay for mandatory wastewater connections to the Marion County Utility System in designated areas.
  • The ordinance provides guidelines for notifying property owners. The first notification should be no less than 365 days prior to the anticipated availability date, a second notification 90 days prior to the anticipated availability date, and then a final notification when service is available. Once sewer service is available, property owners would then have 365 days from the availability date to make the conversion in accordance with Florida Statute Section 381.00655.

Sewer connection installations will be handled by contractors who have been approved by Marion County, and grant funding will be available to cover all initial costs to property owners as long as they make the connection within the allotted time.

Once the conversion has been completed, the property owner will receive a monthly utility bill, but the owner will no longer have to worry about septic tank maintenance, cleaning, or replacement costs.

Before any conversion work begins in any of the project areas, the county will adopt resolutions with detailed information about each area along with the work that will be conducted. Public hearings will then be held within each community.

Commissioners shared their thoughts on the conversion project during Tuesday’s meeting.

Commissioner Craig Curry said, “The number one issue facing Marion County from a citizen’s standpoint is preservation of our natural resources. This initiative helps reduce nitrogen load in our springs, and this program isn’t something to be afraid of. This is being able to tackle the elephant in the room. If you love the springs, you want to protect them. Whatever goes down your septic tank is out of sight, out of mind, but the truth is it’s damaging our springs, and this program is a fix for that.”

“(The commissioners were) talking about this before Zalak or I were on the board, and the fact is, I didn’t think we would ever be able to see the day where we would have the money for something like this. We’re taking that money and using it in the best way possible to go out and fix something that’s been broken for a long time,” said Commissioner Kathy Bryant.

Marion County anticipates that approximately $30,000 will be invested per household in areas where septic-to-sewer conversions are planned, and the commissioners are hopeful that these conversions will help preserve the local aquifer and other water resources for years to come.