AURORA — Beginning next month, residents with septic systems are going to have to find a private contractor to perform the service, after City Council voted last week to get out of the cleaning business.

Eventually, the city may select a contractor to provide the service citywide.

With two members voting "no" and two abstaining, Council approved amending the city ordinance dealing with cleaning of private septic systems at its Monday meeting.

The ordinance has provided for city cleaning of septic systems at a cost of $180 since 2011. More than 900 city property owners have septic systems.

Jim Vaca and Harold Hatridge voted against the change, while John Kudley and Dennis Kovach abstained because they are septic system users. Amy McDougald, Kathi Grandillo, Scott Wolf, George Horvat and Reva Barner favored the new way of providing septic cleaning.

Instead of city personnel cleaning septic systems at $180 per cleaning, residents will have to hire a private contractor to clean their systems. The city will reimburse property owners up to $180 for any amount they are billed over $180.

Reimbursements will be offered through Dec. 31, 2021, and will be paid to the property owner after he or she proves the septic cleaning firm was paid. Reimbursements cover only cleaning.

The amended ordinance also calls for the service director to issue a request for proposals (RFP) from time to time and contract with a provider to offer cleanings, which Law Director Dean DePiero said will allow the city to obtain value pricing and could bring the cleaning costs down for property owners and the city.

The RFP process would run through Dec. 31, 2022, but can be extended by the mayor and Council.

The legislation further calls for cleaning to take place not more than every three years, "or when a system discharges settleable solids, whichever occurs first."

An amendment added to the original proposal states the service director may grant a waiver of the three-year stipulation based upon special circumstances, such as if cleaning is not necessary that soon.

A cleaning firm must provide written certification of the cleaning to the city, and the city will maintain a database documenting certifications and must notify each property owner 30 days before the expiration of each three-year interval that the system is due for cleaning.

Money for the reimbursements will be appropriated from the septic cleaning fund and shall not exceed $100,000 over the three-year term.

Vaca proposed extending the reimbursements to 2021, past the originally proposed 2020. He and Hatridge expressed several concerns about changing the existing program, thus leading to their "no" votes.

Councilwoman Amy McDougald said she favored the change because of liability issues the city could face from having city workers going onto private property to pump systems.

"We are trying to help citizens by getting a better deal on cleaning while protecting the quality of our water," she said.

"The RFP process will allow the city to offer a better deal to septic system users," added Councilwoman Kathi Grandillo.  "Licensed pumpers will do the work. We have tweaked the original legislation to address residents’ concerns."

Councilman Scott Wolf said the city was not in compliance with some state regulations when it offered the now discontinued septic cleaning program, and officials are trying to find a way of coming into compliance.

Service Director Harry Stark said he knows of no other community in Ohio that offers a cleaning program like Aurora did.

Several residents who are septic system users spoke about the issue.

Resident George Mazzaro said the city should do a better job helping citizens and "not knock them in the head with a sledgehammer."

Resident Gary Henrich questioned the need for septic cleaning every three years, saying as long as a system is operating properly cleaning might not be necessary that often. It was noted that is why the amendment allowing a waiver was added.

"The city should continue the program as it is or find a better way [than what is being offered] to do it," said resident Dana Wakefield.

A handful of residents questioned why Kovach and Kudley were advised not to vote on the issue.

"We voted for people to represent us," said resident Jim Bucks. "Does this mean if Council is voting on a city sanitary sewer project and members are hooked into the sanitary system, they can’t vote?"

DePiero explained he rendered the opinion that the two Councilmen should not vote based on Ohio Ethics Law provisions. "I’m only giving advice," he said. "The pair can vote if they choose, but they could face ethics violations if they do."

Reporter Ken Lahmers can be reached at 330-541-9400 Ext. 4189 or klahmers@recordpub.com