Despite search, county finds no certified health inspectors
Last modified: Feb. 7
Despite authorizing the hiring of a trained environmental health inspector to help reduce a current backlog of permits, Ashe County Commissioners learned Monday afternoon help may not be on the horizon in the near term.
“The direction you gave me at that time was that you would put in extra resources for just the current budget year, and to go ahead and get an environmental health specialist hired,” said Ashe County Manager Pat Mitchell, referencing a Dec. 3, 2012, commissioners work-session.
Commissioners indicated in December they wanted to hire a trained environmental health specialist who would, “be able to hit the ground running,” according to a Dec. 5 email provided by Ashe County Commissioner Judy Poe, in the hopes the hiring would be able to clear a backlog of permits and help jump start building.
Commissioners agreed to fund a new hire’s salary through the remainder of the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013. After that point, the Appalachian District Health Department would retain and be responsible for the inspector’s salary.
After advertising the position, however, Mitchell told commissioners none of the applicants the ADHD had selected had the necessary training.
“It will take several months of training, before they can actually go out and do...inspections,” said Mitchell. “Do (county commissioners) still want to go ahead and put in resources during this current budget year and get somebody hired to get them trained?”
According to Mitchell, the new environmental health specialist would require training of more than a year to be certified to perform independent inspections, and would not complete important basic certifications until late summer or fall.
“Even if we hired for positions in Ashe and Watauga, it may be summer or fall before they can get the (basic certification) filled,” said Mitchell, reading from an email from the Director of the ADHD Beth Lovette.
Commissioners took no action on Feb. 4, but did discuss the prospect of advertising weekend and part-time work for trained inspectors across the state who could help reduce the county’s permitting backlog.
The ADHD advertised vacancies for environmental health inspectors in both Ashe and Watauga Counties, with both positions posted 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.”
According to a job listing obtained from the Appalachian District Health Department’s Director of Allied Health Services Jennifer Greene in December, the salary for both positions will be between $38,472 - $40,395.60, and would focus on water protection with some work in public swimming pools.
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, and must 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.
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.
“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 the former Executive Officer of the Ashe County Homebuilders Association Kelley St. Germain in April 2012. “They’re going elsewhere to build.”