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County authorizes new environmental health inspector

Originally published: Dec. 13, 2012
Last modified: Dec. 13, 2012

Adam Orr

Spurred by an increase in the number of environmental health permit requests in Ashe County over the last year, the Ashe County Board of Commissioners authorized the Appalachian District Health Department to begin the hiring search for an additional inspector to reduce permitting backlog on Dec. 3. 

"(County commissioners) want (a) person to start immediately and be able to hit the ground running," said Ashe County Commissioner Judy Poe in a Dec. 5 email to the President of the Ashe County Homebuilders Association Kelley St. Germain. "We hope this will jump start building, by making it faster to get permits." 

The Appalachian District Health Department's Director of Health Beth Lovette told Ashe County Manager Pat Mitchell and Ashe County Commissioner Judy Poe that she was “thrilled when (she) spoke to (Ashe County Board of Commissioner's Clerk Ann Clark) and learned that...commissioners had approved the funding of an additional Environmental Health Specialist.” 

Lovette said the health department will now “unfreeze” a vacant position and post hiring notices “as quickly as possible.” 

The ADHD currently has vacancies for environmental health inspectors in both Ashe and Watauga Counties, according to Lovette, who said both positions will be posted at the same time in local newspapers, the ADHD's list serves, and the Employment Security Commission. 

"Our ideal will be to hire the most qualified person to get them trained, authorized and actively working in the field as soon as possible," said Lovette. "We appreciate the Board's decision and believe it is justified by the dramatic increase in septic applications in Ashe." 

Lovette said the department is "always concerned about ongoing funding in future years, but I have discussed this with our board of health chairman, Ken Richardson, and we agree that this is an important move to support the Ashe Environmental Health program." 

Job listing

According to a job listing obtained from the Appalachian District Health Department's Director of Allied Health Services Jennifer Greene, the salary for both positions will be between $38,472 - $40,395.60.

“The majority of the work will be in the water protection section with some work in public swimming pools,” according to the job listing. 

One position is listed in Watauga County with the other in Jefferson. Applicants must “have the ability to work well with the public, good understanding of environmental health rules and regulations, good oral and written communication skills and some computer service user skills.”

Inspectors must have knowledge of inspections, surveillance, and enforcement of environmental health programs including food, lodging, institutions, on-site wastewater systems, water supplies and complaint investigations, according to the listing. 

Applicants must also hold a bachelor's degree, with a minimum of 30 hours in physical or biological sciences and two years experience in environmental health. Applicants must also be registered as a sanitarian by the N.C. Board of Sanitarian Examiners prior to employment. 

“Long overdue” 

“I think (the hiring) is long overdue and something that we have advocated for two years,” said St. Germain. “We appreciate the commissioners going ahead and funding this position. Building is going to have a hard time getting going again until we get rid of this permit backlog.”

Earlier in 2012, local homebuilders voiced their displeasure with the ADHD and the speed at which the department handled environmental health permitting requests needed for new construction and home additions during multiple public forums in Fleetwood and at the Ashe County Courthouse. 

Members cited the length of time necessary to get permits and the attitude they said health department inspectors met them with. 

“Folks all over the state are coming to the conclusion that the Appalachian Regional Health Department is making it too hard and too expensive to build in Watauga, Ashe, and Alleghany Counties,” said Executive Officer of the Ashe County Homebuilders Association Kelley St. Germain in April of this year. “They're going elsewhere to build.”

But St. Germain said on Dec. 11, he's hearing fewer complaints about ADHD's inspectors than he once did. 

“Things aren't perfect, but they are getting better,” said St Germain. “I feel like (Director Beth) Lovette is really working to make things better, and we're glad to see that progress is being made.” 

Despite moving into the winter, traditionally the slowest time of year for homebuilding and renovating, St. Germain said he's seeing signals from his membership that building is starting to pick back up. 

“I do have some members that have three or four building projects ongoing right now, and they've not seen those kind of numbers for several years,” said St Germain. “Other members have none right now, so it's a bit of a mixed bag. We're never going to see what we saw four years ago, but we're hoping an improving economy, and taking care of these environmental health inspections will lead to a good spring.” 

For more information and stories, see Ashe Mountain Times.