Cost of septic pumping to increase in Island County

People who live in unincorporated areas of the county and have indoor plumbing may want to consider getting their septic tanks pumped sooner than later.

The amount Island County charges septic tank pumping companies to empty their tanks into its treatment facility will nearly double beginning on July 31, and the costs will likely be passed on to customers.

Rod Gabelein of Gabelein Bros. Septic Tank Pumping, Whidbey Island’s oldest septic pumping company, said customers aren’t going to be happy with the increase.

“It’s going to hurt us,” he said. “That’s for sure.”

Earlier this year, the Island County commissioners adopted a resolution that increased rates from $0.155 to $0.279 per gallon.

During the meeting, Public Works Director Bill Oakes explained that the increase in the rate is due to the county’s increased cost of disposing the treated biosolids.

The county is unable to find a farmer willing to construct with the county to have the Class B biosolids spread on fields. As a result, the stuff has to be trucked to Whatcom County for disposal.

When the rate increases to about 27 cents a gallon, about 24 cents of that will go to paying the contractor that hauls the biosolids and the contractor that disposes of it, Oakes said.

In addition, the county hasn’t increased the rate in 10 years.

“Maybe we should have been raising rates each year so that it’s not such a shock,” Oakes said.

He said public works staff is continuing to look for less expensive ways to get rid of the biosolids.

They have been talking to officials at the Town of Coupeville about the possibility of a temporary sewage-related partnership. The proposal is for the town to treat the county’s supernatant, which is a clear liquid byproduct of sewage treatment that requires further treatment before it can be discharged.

The proposal would decrease the amount of yucky material the county has to haul to Whatcom County, but no decisions have been made.

While the commissioners were concerned about the timing of the increase — during a pandemic — but Oakes explained that the financial situation is pretty serious.

The county’s sewage treatment facility is run as an enterprise fund, which means that it is supposed to be financially self sufficient.

Oakes said that the fund has been operating in the red for years, even with the revenues from the solid waste operation helping to pay for sewage treatment.

In the last two years, the fund balance has subsidized the treatment facility by about $500,000 a year, which is not sustainable.

Oakes said the increase will mean a resident with a septic tank will pay about $100 extra to have it pumped, which is necessary about every five years or so. Someone would only need to set aside about $1.67 a month to pay for the increase.