LIMA — AC/DC once said very emphatically that dirty deeds can be done dirt cheap. However, since January, many Ohio homeowners with septic systems haven’t exactly shared in the rock group’s sentiment. In fact, a legal debate continues to rage as to just how cheap septic system maintenance can be.This ongoing dilemma began Jan. 1 when a new state law went into effect, which gave power to the Ohio Department of Health to enact new, stringent home sewage treatment system regulations. Homeowners with older running systems were grandfathered in, but if someone had one fail or needed to put in a new system, the new rules applied.The biggest change within those new rules was a vertical separation distance of two to three feet. Marvin Selhorst, director of environmental health at the Auglaize County Health Department, said the vertical separation distance is simply the distance between the bottom of a septic leach bed and the first restricted layer, whether it is bedrock or in most cases, the water table.That distance protects the water table from microorganisms derived from human waste.Unfortunately, many places in Ohio don’t have two to three feet to spare. So the land has to be created artificially, and that means more money. A mound-based system could cost up to $25,000, as opposed to $6,000 to $10,000 for a standard dug discharging system, said Yocum Realty owner Tim Stanford.“The mound systems are just way too expensive. You actually have to have a septic architect plan out a system that is just built for your home,” Stanford said.Bill Kelly, director of environmental health at the Allen County Health Department, agreed and said too much is involved to keep the price down.“There’s a lot of stuff that jacks the price up,” he said. “You’ve got to look at soil analysis, grade and structure. Then you have to design it.”Many homeowners weren’t happy and it wasn’t long until legislators went into action. On June 29, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland signed a new law, which rescinded the initial Jan. 1 rules. However, in rescinding the rules, the bill gave local health departments exclusive authority on just how deep the vertical separation needs to be for the next two years. Stanford said many counties never changed from the tougher rules, although he admits it isn’t necessarily the county’s fault.“These local health departments are bureaucratic organizations that are unfortunately being forced to make political decisions,” he said.With the ball in their court, both Allen and Auglaize County health officials have done what they can to keep the costs down, including mandating just 12 inches of vertical separation. To cut costs, Selhorst said he began giving Auglaize residents fair warning years ago.“Two years ago we started telling folks at board meetings that this change was going to happen and it worked. Typically, we have about 30 [septic] replacements per year. Last year we had 283,” he said.Selhorst said about 20 to 30 Ohio counties have maintained the strict rules, but added that some counties have gone the other way by mandating just six inches of vertical separation and in a few cases, zero inches.“That’s just not safe at all. That’s just asking to fail,” he said.Local health boards will maintain their control at least until July 2009, when the Ohio General Assembly will adopt a new set of rules. Selhorst said regardless of whatever the new laws may be, local health boards will likely keep their authorization.“I think the whole reason they changed the rules back [in July] was because the politicians realized that with the mandated two feet of separation, there was a lot less [home] building, so they passed on control to the local health departments,” he said.