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Frequently Asked Questions

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What is a POWTS?

POWTS is an acronym for a Private Onsite Wastewater Treatment System.  A more widely used term is ‘septic system.’  It is intended to treat domestic wastewater.  The most common onsite system used is a septic tank in combination with a traditional drain field.  A properly designed, installed, and maintained system should operate for 20 to 40 years or more, treating wastewater to minimize the negative impact on groundwater, surface water, and human health. 

What is the reason for the State law?

The state law is intended to protect the health and safety of Wisconsin residents and to protect the ground and surface waters of the state.  It is important to make sure that wastewater or effluent from the septic system is being treated properly, and to identify septic systems when they are not functioning properly.  If a failing septic system contaminates drinking water, it can affect many more people than just the owner of the septic system. 

Where can I find the regulations regarding this state law?

Wisconsin Department of Commerce, Wisconsin Administrative Code was revised in the year 2000.  Comm. 83.54 addresses the maintenance requirements for all POWTS, indicating the type of maintenance that must be performed on these systems and who must perform it.  State Statute 145.20(5) addresses the requirement that counties must inventory all septic systems (POWTS) in the county and have a maintenance program in place encompassing all of these systems.

Why am I being charged a fee?

In 2000 the State of Wisconsin changed the State plumbing code, which the County is required to administer.  The changes require that all septic systems, regardless of age, must be inspected by a qualified individual at least once every three years.  If the accumulated solids in the tank(s) occupy more than one-third of the tank volume, the tank contents must be pumped.  Holding tanks are septic systems that are serviced as needed, which can occur more frequently than once every three years.  The County is required to compile a database of all septic systems located in the County and send notices to those owners due for inspection and pumping to make sure that it is completed and reported to the County once every three years.  The State did not provide any money to the County to do this additional work, thus properties with septic systems are being charged to pay for the maintenance program.

How much is the fee?

The amount of the fee has not changed since 2017 - it is $13 per septic system.  It is on your tax bill.

Why is this fee a separate charge and not included with the regular taxes?

The properties served by sewer districts are subject to sewer bills, including tax-exempt organizations.  Likewise, the properties that have septic systems, including tax-exempt organizations, are being charged to pay for the cost of this maintenance program.

What is the difference between a tax and a special fee?

A tax is a blanket charge against all properties in the County; it cannot be charged against tax-exempt organizations such as churches and other governments.  A special fee is a separate charge that can be made directly on a tax bill for specific parcels, such as any parcel served by a septic system.

What if I don’t pay the fee?

State law requires that any special fees be paid first when taxes are paid.  If you do not include the amount of the fee when you pay your taxes, the money will still be taken from your payment, and your property taxes will show an unpaid amount of the sanitary fee, which will accumulate interest and penalties until paid.

I have a holding tank, so I don’t have a septic system.

Not true.  Holding tanks are still considered privately owned septic systems and therefore are included in this program.  In fact, while other septic systems are only required to be pumped once every three years, holding tanks must be pumped whenever they are full.  Pumpers are required to report holding tank pumping to the County every six months, so there is actually much more work and cost involved in maintaining these records.

I have a mound system, not a septic system; or I have an in-ground system, not an above ground system.

Regardless of what type of system is installed on your property, it is a POWTS.  The only properties not having septic systems are those that are connected to public sewer systems, or those buildings that don’t have plumbing in them.

What will be required of me as a property owner as a result of this program?

The County sends out parcel-specific pumping notices.  The pumping notice will have questions on it that need to be answered, thus you will have to contact a licensed pumper to come out to inspect your system and get it pumped.  Once the pumping form is completed, you need to return it to the zoning department within the allotted timeframe.  You will receive pumping notices every three years reminding you that your system is due to be pumped.                                  

What if I have my tanks pumped every year or every two years?

While pumping your septic tanks every three years is the requirement, many experts in the field will recommend a more frequent maintenance program.  If you do have your system serviced at a more frequent time interval, you may provide your pumper with a copy of the pumping form for them to fill out and return to the County; or you may provide the County with an invoice copy showing the date and location (address, property owner, etc.) of pumping.  Outagamie County will continue to send pumping reminders every three years from the last date we have on record.