County judge rules with Ratepayers Alliance on SSWM fees

A Kitsap County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the Bainbridge Ratepayers Alliance Friday in granting the ratepayers’ April 2011 motion for summary judgment with respect to all-island Surface and Stormwater Management (SSWM) fees.

Judge Russell Hartman decided the motion filed by Bainbridge Ratepayers Alliance (RPA) regarding the SSWM fees had merit. Three other (of the lawsuit's 12 causes of action) summary judgment motions included in RPA's March 4 amended complaint to its lawsuit against the city were either denied or dismissed. In its response, the City of Bainbridge Island had filed a counter motion for summary judgment for the same four issues.

“This is a very big win for the ratepayers both legally and with respect to the amount involved, an amount well in excess of $2 million," said Sally Adams, secretary for the RPA, regarding the SSWM fees decision. "The RPA is hopeful that the court’s decision will serve as the impetus for the city to restructure its utilities to assure reduced, fair and equitable rates going forward for all island residents.”

The city had shorted the SSWM fees it pays to the utility for its property, including roads, by 70 percent during a three-year period (2008-10). Hartman said his oral ruling that the city was liable for the unpaid fees and couldn't retroactively forgive itself on the basis of the mistake. The RPA lawsuit said the fees amounted to more than $2 million.

"In striking down reduced stormwater rates for city streets, the judge’s ruling could create a serious problem for Bainbridge Island and dozens of other jurisdictions in Washington,” said Interim City Manager Brenda Bauer in a statement. “We will really have to wait for further court proceedings before we know the effects of today’s decision and to get results in most of the other issues in the lawsuit.”

Regarding one of the remaining three causes of action, the court sided with the city in its involvement in the Waterfront Park restrooms.

“It is good to have vindication of the sewer utility’s role in the construction of the Waterfront Park restroom," Bauer said.

Judge Hartman also denied both the RPA’s and the city’s motions for summary judgment with respect to the island-wide groundwater study and the discount given to the Bainbridge Island School District by the city since neither issue could be resolved without the introduction of additional facts at a trial.

As a result, unless the city is granted the right to appeal the SSWM fees ruling, the groundwater and school district issues will not be severed from the RPA lawsuit against the city. And, unless the city and ratepayers enter into a settlement agreement, 10 of the 12 remaining causes of action in the lawsuit would go to trial.

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