Municipal Restroom Placement Fees Would Be Disastrous for PROs

One Massachusetts town is looking to charge portable sanitation companies $10 per unit per day to deliver restrooms to customers

I was in the newspaper business for many years before I became a trade magazine editor, and we used the term “burying the lead” when a reporter misjudged the most important piece of information and started the story with a trivial bit of news.

That was my first thought when I recently read a story about portable sanitation rules and regulations discussed at a meeting of the Westport Board of Health in Westport, Massachusetts. The lead in the local Herald News explains that the town would now refer to “portable toilets” rather than “Port-A-Johns” when describing restroom units in its regulations. Apparently the local officials believed portable toilet to be a more generic reference and that “Port-A-John” seemed to be more of a proprietary name.

OK, big deal, right?

But then the story went on to discuss an issue that would be considered a bombshell to restroom operators, and something I’ve never heard of in many years of tracking the portable sanitation industry. The story explains that portable sanitation companies and the construction companies that hire them have been ignoring $10 per unit, per day — and $100 for more than 10 days — town permits to use a restroom.

Yes, you read that right. Westport requires a permit fee be paid to place a restroom for usage by a construction crew or other users. And their new proposed rules were to switch the responsibility for the permit from the user to the restroom operator.

I checked fee schedule at the town website and confirmed the charges for placing a restroom. They were published along with a variety of other permit fees you might expect from your local municipality, including:

- Residential septic plan review, $100

- Wastewater system abandonment, $100

- Perc application, $350

- Roll-off container permit, $75

- Piggery permit (more than four pigs), $100.

OK, so I included the piggery permit for a joke, but being involved with the wastewater industry, you are probably familiar with the others.

UNFAIR TO PROS

According to the newspaper story, the permit is in place to protect groundwater and surface water and prevent people from using them as a long-term solution to sanitation needs.

Philip Weinberg, board of health chairman for the town of about 15,000 south of Boston and on the Atlantic Ocean, comments: “Over the years we found multiple instances of users not obtaining permits. As the board already regulates septage haulers, we believe that making them responsible to secure the permit before putting (the restroom) on a site will dramatically increase permit compliance. It will also substantially reduce staff time on administration and compliance enforcement.”

PROs would take issue with these rules for a number of reasons.

The extra task would take hours and hours of staff time. Imagine your office crew having to make sure a $10 permit is obtained for every unit leaving your yard. They write the checks, keep a digital log, add it to every invoice and communicate with both the town health department and the customer.

The upfront cost to PROs would be burdensome. Let’s say a PRO working in Westport has an average of 300 restrooms out on work sites. That means the small company is fronting its clientele $3,000 per day in permit fees. Imagine increasing your carrying costs anywhere near that amount and let me know how long the small family restroom company is going to stay in business.

Customers would balk at the added fee. Rather than drive better compliance, these fees will drive many construction companies underground and they will do whatever they can to avoid using required portable sanitation. So in effect, the added fees could do the opposite of what the town is trying to accomplish.

The amount of the fee is unreasonable. Most construction site units, for example, will be placed for more than 10 days. The $100 fee will almost double the cost of the restrooms for building contractors who probably already think they pay their PRO too much for the service. The fee is punitive if it comes anywhere near the total cost of placing and servicing a restroom for a month. 

These fees are unnecessary because PROs already closely track equipment. More and more PROs are becoming certified through the Portable Sanitation Association International to provide safe, high-quality service. Required training in many states includes proper handling of wastewater and appropriate spill response. That’s not to mention Occupational Safety and Health Administration compliance requirements. Companies responsibly track their valuable equipment, and service technicians are held accountable for reporting work site problems. PROs have a great incentive to follow accepted safety procedures and respond to problems professionally.

SOMETHING NEW

As I said earlier, this is the first such restroom permit fee I’ve encountered. And I checked with a longtime industry insider friend who had the same reaction. Were this sort of permit to be more common, I’m certain it would be a frequent topic of conversation when I talk to PROs across the country or visit with them at the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport (WWETT) Show.

Though it’s something new to me, I can’t say I’m terribly surprised. As local governments face tighter budgets and rising costs for personnel, insurances, building upkeep and infrastructure improvements, it’s often the path of least resistance to fall back on increasing existing fees and creating new fees than it is to add to the tax bills.

PROs understand all too well what it’s like to face rising costs and a resistance to frequent rate increases. With competition too often nipping at your feet with low prices, turning a profit and keeping customers is a major challenge. But these permits seem like the local government piling on top of small businesses — be it the PRO or the customer renting the restroom.

How about you? Are you seeing proposals for restroom permit fees emerging through your local health departments or municipal government? If so, please let me know about it so I can share information with readers of Portable Restroom Operator. Send me an email at editor@promonthly.com and I promise to respond.

START THE RESISTANCE

If this permit fee is an early hint of a trend, the portable sanitation industry should be prepared to make government officials aware of the hardship that rules like these could cause to small businesses in their communities. After all, small business is the backbone of our economy, and PROs provide good jobs, deliver a vital public service and are on the front lines for ensuring a cleaner environment. 



Discussion

Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.