Geary County homeowner Terry Ziegler filed a claim for damages with Geary County after failing a septic tank inspection last year when he attempted to sell his home after having bought the home in question a year prior. When he attempted to sort the issue out, he indicated he felt county officials attempted to dodge responsibility and otherwise gave him the runaround.
Ziegler made these feelings known when he approached the county commission recently for public comment, where he indicated he would be willing to take legal action if the matter was not resolved.
Ziegler’s claim totals $6,263.42 and was made in October of last year, citing the expense of adding about 100 feet of extra line to his septic system.
Ziegler said in July 2019, he purchased a home at 7122 Rockwood Rd. An official with the Geary County Health Department conducted a septic tank inspection on the residence and signed off on it. In August of 2020, Ziegler went to sell the house and another septic tank inspection took place. This time, however, the tank did not pass inspection, he said.
According to Ziegler, the only thing wrong with the tank was the size — it was an 800 gallon tank, but it was supposed to be a 1,500 tank.
“There was no back flow issues from the house, there was no leaching to the surface of waste material,” he said.
Ziegler received a call from his realtor. She told him he had a “major problem” on his hands. He would not be able to sell his house after failing the septic tank inspection until he could bring the tank up to code.
Ziegler said he was surprised, because the tank had been inspected just last year.
He would later attempt to set up a meeting with the health department director, he said. Ziegler said he requested an in-person meeting and was rebuffed. Instead, they talked about the matter over the phone.
“So we started talking about this inspection that was done,” he said. “As I go through the inspection, all of the sudden the inspector starts talking who — (I) didn’t know he was in the room — and the conversation gets pretty heated.”
One point of contention for Ziegler was that the only problem with the tank was the size. The system, he said, was functioning properly. He believed his home should have been grandfathered in to recent updates to the sanitation code.
Ziegler asked who the health department was answerable to and was directed to contact the Geary County Commission.
“I did what I thought would be appropriate and I get on the phone with my commissioner at the time, who isn’t currently serving on the board,” he said. “So I call him and I asked here’s what’s happening, here’s what the state sanitation code says and I start walking through it with him … I’m talking to him and he calls me back after a couple exchanges and he says, ‘the inspector and the county attorney are telling me that this is only a recommendation. This is a recommendation.’ And I said, ‘wait a minute. I said, if this is a recommendation regarding my septic system, then the citizens of Geary County should not be paying $80 for a septic inspection if you have no enforcement ability.’ He said, ‘it’s only an inspection.’ And I said, ‘I would beg to differ with you that (the Kansas Department of Health and the Environment) would tell me that you are responsible for enforcing it and they’re not recommendations — I have to meet them.”
According to Ziegler, a sanitation code adopted by Geary County in 2012 said the report resulting from a septic tank inspection was to note everything that was found during such an inspection and indicate compliance or noncompliance with the code and note corrections to be made. The code also bars people from selling or refinancing property that has not passed such an infection, he said.
Ziegler ultimately moved forward bringing the tank up to code with selling the house.
He would then buy a new Geary County home, this time on Younkin Drive.
A septic tank inspection takes place at the home Ziegler is trying to purchase. The new home has a 1,000 gallon tank, but nonetheless passed inspection. The inspection said something about a garbage disposal, which Ziegler said is nowhere in the county’s code.
Ziegler said he believed the county was “arbitrarily and capriciously enforcing codes that don’t even exist.”
He said he addressed the health department again, but did not receive a satisfactory answer. He decided to file a claim.
According to Ziegler, there was a problem from the minute he tried to file his claim with the county.
“The state statute requires that counties and municipalities have a claims process so that individual citizens wronged by the county or the city can file for damages,” he said. “I contacted the clerk — the Geary County Clerk. I asked where the forms were for the claim. She said ‘there are none’ and I said ‘by state statute you have to have a claim for for citizens.’”
Because no form was available at the clerk’s office, Ziegler said he made a form of his own based on state statute and used that to submit his claim.
By state statute, he said, the county had 90 days to respond to his claim from when he made it. The county had not responded to the claim and by statute that in and of itself constituted a response, he said.
“My next step is to proceed with legal actions against the county,” Ziegler said. “I thought, ‘well, I’ll come and talk to the commission. We’ve got newly elected commissioners. Let me explain what’s going on here to see if we can get it remedied. And I’m willing to wait another 45 days for you guys.”
He said if he hadn’t heard from the commission in 45 days, he would continue with his plans to take legal action.
In addition to filing a claim against the county, he said he had requested open records from the health department for all septic tank inspections over the course of the last two years. He went to the county clerk’s office again with his open records request. Ziegler was told the clerk’s office did not hold those records. He was instructed to file the request with the health department.
He would end up speaking with the health department director again, he said. Ziegler said the director ultimately refused to sign the request, though she dated it.
“She would not sign it,” he said. “Nobody would sign it for me.”
He said that at one point he was told it would take six months to gather all the records he had requested. Ziegler said he felt that was excessive, but agreed to it nonetheless.
Ziegler filed another complaint concerning the open records request.
“My whole thing is that I believe I have damages, my family has damages of (more than) $6,200 as a result of a health department employee not knowing the sanitation code, the director of the health department not knowing the sanitation code, a commissioner getting bad information from an employee and from a legal representative and it’s clearly a violation of the sanitation code,” he said.
Commission Chair Trish Giordano said the commission would need to look into the matter.
“(We’ll be) looking into the issue Mr. Ziegler had,” she said.