Home lenders, including conventional banks and the Federal Housing Administration, often require that home wells and septic tanks be tested for bacteria, nitrates, and other water contaminants before they will issue loans for the purchase of the property. County governments have traditionally provided well-testing services, but home loan applicants and property owners are increasingly turning to the private sector for this important function.

The county of Midland maintains a staff of three which, among other duties, removes well and water samples from homes and sends them to a government laboratory for analysis. The process takes approximately three weeks and costs customers $155 in fees, not including the taxes that must be paid to provide the employees' salaries.

Private, for-profit companies, such as Water Testing Service and Laboratory of Grand Blanc, also provide well and septic evaluations (among other tests), but they charge less (about $145) and provide test results in days rather than weeks.

Water Testing Service and Laboratory has been in business 12 years and operates a micro laboratory in Genesee County that is capable of conducting any chemical examination that is required by the state. Owner Matt Dillon said his company was one of the first "independents" in lower southeast Michigan. "The counties always did the best they could [to meet demand for tests] but they still had trouble keeping up," he said. That is when Dillon stepped in and virtually wrote the book on private well and septic testing.

According to Dillon, many Michigan counties have now shed their well testing services entirely, leaving independents and market entrepreneurs such as himself to fill the well, septic, and soil sampling and testing niche.

Privatization of testing services allows counties to shift their resources to other important functions and obligations of government. In Midland, for example, privatization of testing services may allow the county to eliminate one position entirely, saving over $55,000 annually which could be applied toward police, courts or other core functions. The county could also retain the employee and shift his or her duties to another important function.

Municipal well and septic testing services may be privatized without legislative action. The cheaper and faster tests from private firms may simply cause consumers to gravitate away from the government-provided services and leave counties with dramatically less demand for their tests. Consumers, taxpayers, and home buyers will drive this trend to better and more efficient services.