BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MONTROSE – The Lee County Health Department wants to make sure septic system contractors take more responsibility with work they’re doing in the county.
Currently, contractors in the area not required to be registered with the county or bonded in the county to do work. However, Fort Madison, Keokuk, and other cities in the county require that bondedness to do work on systems within city limits.
Lee County Health Department Environmental Services Program Director Rosa Haukedahl proposed a change to Lee County code at Tuesday’s Lee County Board of Supervisors meeting that would require any contractor working in the county installing or repairing septic systems to be bonded and registered with the county.
“We believe this will be a good change for us and a more standard approach to septic systems,” Haukedahl said. “The way it stands right now, when a contractor installs a system and we have an issue we have to deal with homeowner. When we get this in place, if we have an issue, we’ll have more control.”
LCHD is looking to have contractors carry a $15,000 insurance bond, which would cost them about $100. She said the $15,000 is on the high end of the cost of installing a septic system, and would cover most work being done in the county.
After the contractors turn over the bond or a letter of credit to the county, they would then be listed on the county’s registry of bonded contractors, which will help homeowners selecting a contractor.,
“What we want is for the homeowners to look a little deeper into the contractors that they’re hiring,” she said. “We want to make sure the contractor is registered with the county and that we have the information. Then the homeowners know how to get a hold of this person if something goes bad.”
Supervisor Matt Pflug said he wanted it to be clear that this was not a way for the county to recommend a contractor, but more of a way to help property owners in the event something would go wrong with a repair or installation.
Haukedahl said homeowners would get the registered contractor list when they apply for a permit with the county for the septic work. She said the county issues close to 100 permits per year and lots of counties in Iowa are moving to have a bond or letter of credit on file.
Pflug asked her if there is a problem currently with shoddy work on septic systems. Haukedahl said it’s not common but each year there is one or two instances where the county has to get involved.
“You’ll always have one or two that will want to argue when something goes wrong,” she said. “We’ve been successful in getting them to make corrections without additional cost to homeowners, but when we put this in place, there will be no doubt where liability will fall.”
Pflug said he thought the ordinance was a good idea and takes the county out of the picture.
Supervisor Ron Fedler said he also agreed with the proposed change as it provides another layer of protection for county residents,.
“Sometimes by accident, or whatever, a system isn’t put in correctly and this will guarantee the homeowner the protection they should have.”
The proposal was in front of the board as a discussion item. Haukedahl said she’s has had Lee County Attorney Ross Braden review the proposed changes and he has signed off on the new language.
The proposal will require three readings and approvals by Supervisors before it becomes part of the county code.,
In an unrelated issue, supervisors agreed to purchase back-up generators for the north Lee County Office building and South Lee County Courthouse. Two bids were received, one from Mohrfeld Electric and one from Frank Millard and Co., Gary Folluo motioned to accept the lower bids for each location which was approved 5-0. Initially, Mohrfeld had the lowest bid for the north Lee County building and Millard had the lowest bid for the courthouse.
However, according to Lee County Auditor Denise Fraise, Lee County Maintenance Director Kirk Nafziger found a discrepancy in the bids despite the bids being read in open session of the supervisors meeting. Nafziger said Mohrfeld’s bid was for a more expensive liquid cooled generator, However that was not indicated during the reading of the bids. Since the motion approved was for the lowest bid, Fraise indicated Tuesday in an email to the board that Mohrfeld would be awarded both bids at $8,372.36 for the north building and $10,097.23 in the south. Millard’s bid was $9,072 for the north building and $10,907 for the courthouse.
The county has experienced two power outages in the past six weeks that has left county residents without access to county buildings and emergency services outside of the E911 system, such as medical alert or home security systems.
Fraise said the county is not required to go out for bids on anything under $100,000, or if a purchase is required for an emergency situation. Initially, Fraise had contacted Mohrfeld for costs, under the emergency code language, to install a back-up system at the north Lee County building after it was discovered the a power outage at the building in Fort Madison shut down the phone system at the sheriff’s department, The E911 system has it’s own dedicated lines and backup systems and was not affected in either outage.
When Fraise brought the issue to supervisors in June, it was decided to go out for bids on the work, but Mohrfeld’s estimate was included in media articles about the project so when bids came in Millard could have potentially known what Mohrfeld’s estimate was, So supervisors decided to rebid the project and those were the bids opened and approved on Tuesday.