Sewer process may be spikedA new proviso could make it harder to finance work.
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:48 PM
"The city council took a step towards providing sewer service to four south-end neighborhoods Wednesday, settling on language for an amendment to the island's comprehensive plan.But the language they approved at their Wednesday meeting contains a closely contested proviso that some say could preclude any sewer extension by dramatically increasing costs.I'm afraid this may be a backhanded way of killing the chances to have the service, said council Chair Lois Curtis said.The provisions at issue would allow some homeowners in the affected neighborhoods to opt out of any sewer system, and avoid paying all costs. That provision would apparently rule out one method of financing construction - the formation of Local Improvement Districts, or LIDs.According to City Manager Lynn Nordby, when a sewer LID is formed, all properties within the district pay for the infrastructure - the collection lines and pumping apparatus - regardless of which homes actually connect for service.The city borrows the money to pay for the construction; when the work is done, the city assesses each property its share of the cost. Owners have the option of paying all or part up front or making annual payments on the balance.Homeowners within the LID who actually hook hook up to the sewer system also pay the cost of their individual hookups - the lines from their homes to the collection lines - as well as a connection fee to the sewer district that actually treats the material.But the language approved by the council Wednesday suggests that those who do not want sewer service will pay no costs - not even for the commonly owned lines. At a Tuesday workshop on the sewer issue, council member Michael Pollock defended that stance, saying it is not fair to impose the cost of sewers or residents who have properly functioning septic systems.Why should they have to pay anything for something they don't use? he asked.But that kind of blanket exemption might not be legally possible under an LID, Nordby said. You can arrange the boundaries of the LID to leave out as many people as possible who don't want the service, he said, but if you have a line running right in front of somebody's house, I don't know how you can leave them out.If the proposed opt-out provision survives and rules out LIDs, the only option would be a so-called developer extension arrangement in which those who want service pay for it themselves. The city then would impose a so-called latecomers agreement, and those who connect at a later date would pay when and if they actually hook up.The latecomer method has three principal disadvantages, Nordby said. All the money has to be raised up front, and the city's ability to use tax-exempt bonding and the resulting low interest rate is lost. Third, greater up-front costs are imposed on those who want the service, because they must pay the shares of those who don't.But developer-extension arrangements, Nordby said, are private contracts. So long as the work meets city codes, the neighborhoods could hire anyone they want to do the work at whatever price they can negotiate. The city has less freedom, Nordby said, because it is subject to various prevailing-wage laws.What's nextAt issue is the possible extension of sewer service to Emerald Heights, Point White, upper Pleasant Beach and Rockaway Beach, where residents have complained that a combination of small lots and poor subsurface soil conditions have created widespread septic-system failures.The neighborhoods want to hook into the Fort Ward sewer treatment plant owned and operated by Kitsap County Sewer District No. 7. The district has said it will accept hookups outside of its boundaries under certain conditions, including that there be no cost to its members, and that the existence of sewer service not be used to increase density.But the question has closely divided the city council, principally because some members fear that extending sewer service will inevitably lead to greater housing density at the island's south end.The vote that closely divided the council Wednesday was over whether to remove from the comp-plan amendment language that could allow individual homeowners to opt out of sewers and sewer costs altogether. Pollock, Christine Nasser, Norm Wooldridge and Jim Llewellyn voted to retain the language, while Curtis, Liz Murray and Merrill Robison wanted it removed.Llewellyn, who has generally been a sewer supporter, indicated by his comments that he was not voting for the opt-out provisions as a matter of policy, but was simply voting to move the matter to the planning commission for its consideration.The process of amending the plan is expected to take at least six months.Projections are that at the earliest - if an agreement between the city and the Fort Ward sewer district is reached, and extension of service approved - actual construction could begin in 2002. "