Carroll County day care operators say health officials have become too strict in interpreting state regulations regarding septic systems, curtailing the number of children new license applicants or existing providers can accommodate.
County health officials, however, say their interpretation is already liberal, allowing eight people in a three-bedroom house with a septic system.
At issue for day care providers is loss of income; health officials in Carroll say it's a matter of health and environmental safety. But the interpretation is less stringent in other metropolitan counties.
"The Health Department is arbitrarily and strictly enforcing a policy without any concern for past history," said Terry Serio, president of the Carroll County Family Child Care Association, which has 112 members.
Serio, a licensed child care provider in the Westminster area for six years, said a new interpretation went in effect Jan. 1 without health officials providing a public forum for discussion.
She said the association wants health officials to consider alternatives that would not force providers to pay for larger septic systems or cut enrollment.
"Allowing more frequent pumping of a septic system would be a more reasonable option than being forced to install a whole new system," she said.
However, health officials said allowing more frequent pumping would be too expensive.
The cost of a new septic tank alone is $1,200 to $1,500.
Elizabeth Kelley, who oversees licensing in Carroll for the state Department of Human Resources, said about 6,500 children are enrolled in 73 licensed day care centers and 461 licensed homes.
State law allows providers to care for up to eight children in a home, with no more than two younger than age 2. Many Carroll child care providers have public water and sewer service. The number using private wells and septic systems was not available.
When applicants with private water and septic systems seek a child care license or look to upgrade or renew an existing one, health officials inspect the property, Kelley said. Licenses are approved or rejected based on the inspector's recommendation, using state regulations as a guide.
Ed Singer, assistant director of environmental health for Carroll County, said his agency traditionally has interpreted state regulations liberally. The state code figures on two people per bedroom, so that means six for a three-bedroom house, he said.
"We have and still do increase that meaning a three-bedroom house could have eight occupants and not overly strain the septic system," he said.
That interpretation was not enforced until Jan. 1, Serio said. She said the regulation doesn't apply to foster homes or homes with a large number of natural children, she said.
Singer said his agency works with the state fire marshal's office and is called upon to make inspections on prospective foster homes.
"We do that on a case-by-case basis and, generally, we're dealing with the addition of one child in foster care situations," he said. "Unless we would find a septic system that has failed, we likely would not recommend" against an applicant.
Day care providers are adamant that Carroll officials are interpreting the regulations more strictly than other jurisdictions.
Faulkner said she was previously licensed in Anne Arundel County and the size of the septic system was never an issue for her.
Janice Burris, supervisor for Howard County's Child Care Administration, said she has rejected applicants, unless they agreed to provide bottled water because of problems with wells, but could not recall limiting the number of children in a home based on the size of septic system.
Percy Alston, regional manager for Baltimore County's Child zTC Care Administration, said his agency has never had the problem.
Size of the septic system "has never come up," he said.
Among those affected in Carroll County is Bonnie Faulkner, who has been licensed for six years to care for eight children in her Manchester home. When she moved to a home next door in August, she was told she might be relicensed for only five children, unless she upgraded the septic system.
She said she paid $3,500 to have a 150-foot drain field installed in her yard but has not learned if that will suffice.
Barbara Forbes was licensed for seven children in her home before she moved five miles last month to a home near Winfield. She is now limited to five children unless she installs a larger septic system.
"Three-bedroom homes generally have a 750-gallon septic tank, and I received a $6,000 estimate to replace my system," she said.
Pub Date: 10/19/98