With septic and sewage-related complications mounting across Trumbull County, state and local officials want to take action.
They met Friday morning to discuss ways to help low-income residents pay the costs when forced to tie into public sewage lines.
County Commissioner Frank Fuda said local officials are considering a push to secure zero-percent interest loans for residents in need.
"It's really just another means of helping the citizens have means to pay for new systems," Fuda said. "This is something we've wanted to address for a while now."
Also attending the meeting were state Rep. Sean O'Brien and officials from the county Auditor's Office and Sanitary Engineer's Office and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
Laws require homes and businesses to tie into sewage lines when they are within 200 feet of the property, but many residents are finding it difficult to pay the often thousands of dollars necessary to connect.
O'Brien, D-Brookfield, noted Trumbull County would be the first county in the state to adopt this loan program.
"I was in Columbus talking to officials from the EPA and I mentioned to them some of the problems we are having in our area with the septic tie-ins and other issues," O'Brien said. "They brought up to me this pilot program they are considering."
According to O'Brien, the money would be provided by the state, passed to the county at 0 percent interest, and, in-turn, county officials would provide funding to residents.
"It is basically money that we would pay back over a 10-year period," O'Brien said.
"A lot of times, with the programs that are passed by the state, it really only benefits Columbus or Cleveland or the other big areas of the state. With this, we are able to address some of the specific problems in Trumbull County,'' he said.
The loan program would only be used to fund lateral tie-ins with public sewage lines. Private sewage tie-ins, or frontage, would not be applicable.
"When it comes to the private tie-ins, it is up to the courts if the person can't pay," Rex Fee, sanitary engineer, said.
The tentative plan is for the county to start small and work its way up to large loans down the road.
"With every new program, you are going to run into a few problems," O'Brien said. "That is just the way it goes, so we will start with smaller amounts like $50,000 and work our way up. Once the state sees that it works and that we are paying back the money, we hope to get to point where we could borrow $1 million and do a hundred houses all at once."
If the program is adopted, it must be in place by August, according to O'Brien, but his target is to get the loan system up and running by July.
"In the meantime, we want to come up with an individually tailored programs that address our residents' needs," O'Brien said. "We want to have constant communication with the state and the EPA so they know we're serious. We're going to work hand in hand with them."
Fee stressed that discussions are in a preliminary phase and nothing has been established. He said no specific area or prerequisites for loan application have been discussed.
"There are issues that still need to be ironed out. Part of that is who will be eligible for the program," Fee said. "What's key, is to have follow-up meetings with all the county people, along with the EPA. We have a way to go before we start setting up a footprint as to where we want to target the money."
No future meetings have been scheduled to date, the commissioners' office said, but O'Brien expects another conference with state and local officials sometime in the next two weeks.
"We want to get things moving," O'Brien said. "Being a former assistant county prosecutor and working with the Health Department, I knew this was an issue when I first ran for office and it still is. I've been working with officials to try and address it since I came here. I've spent countless hours discussing the issues with the EPA and others.
"We want to get it done," he said.