DNRC grant to provide loans for failing septics

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Lincoln County residents will soon have the opportunity to seek a low-interest loan through the County Health Department to fix septic problems or hook into a municipal sewer system, thanks to a grant from the Montana Department of Natural Resources.

County Health Department Director Kathi Hooper told the County Commissioners on Jan. 9 that the $40,000 grant from DNRC — part of a renewable resource program — will provide a revolving loan fund for addressing septic problems in the county.

In order to be eligible to receive one of the loans, applicants will have to provide a letter from a bank showing they have been declined for a personal loan to fix the problems with their septic systems.

However, Hooper pointed out that the applicant won’t have to provide any other financial information to the county aside from the letter showing they were denied a loan.

“I think that’s fair,” said County Commissioner Mark Peck.

“That’s very fair,” County Commissioner Jerry Bennett said.

Any interest accrued on the balance of the funds not loaned out — as well as payments made by participants — would go back into the fund to be used for future loans, she said. As a result, the fund has the potential to grow over time.

County Environmental Health Specialist Jake Mertes would conduct an inspection of the system to be repaired or replaced, and the applicant would need to seek at least two bids from septic installers, Hooper said.

In addition to the loans being made at about 4 percent interest, Hooper said that payments would be based on what the participants are able to pay.

The County was asked to put in a match to the grant, Hooper said.

Bennett suggested $4,000 as the county’s match.

County Administrator Darren Coldwell recommended that, since the full $40,000 may never be all loaned out at once, the county could commit to having the match available, but not have to keep it deposited in the fund.

Hooper said the county would pay the septic installer directly for the work done, and the loan payments would then be made by the applicant to the county.

Hooper said that the County Health Department could manage the payments. She said she would want to work with County Finance Director Wendy Drake to determine loan terms.

Coldwell gave kudos to Drake for her work to secure the grant.

“She took the ball and got this going,” he said.

Drake also confirmed that Lincoln County is the first to receive the grant.

“The good thing is, historically, I can tell you, you see people struggle for several years because they don’t have the money, even though they want to get their system fixed,” Bennett said. “So, this will give them the opportunity.”

The County Commissioners voted to allow the County Health Department to proceed with setting up the loan program.

Hooper said that she is hoping to have the process in place by the end of January.

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