Sewer surcharge suspended

The city announced Thursday that the temporary sewer rate surcharge passed last month is on hold.

Interim City Manager Lee Walton said the policy was delayed because of positive developments in negotiations with the Bainbridge Ratepayers Alliance, the group that filed suit against the city in April over improper use of utility funds.

The bills for December usage, with the 111 percent surcharge, were due to go out Friday, but Walton authorized a temporary suspension of the surcharge.

“If we don’t come to an agreement by February it might be another story,” he said.

Walton said a settlement is not in place yet.

Richard Allen, president of the alliance, told the Review that settlement talks have been progressing between he and Walton.

“I have great respect for Lee,” Allen said, “and I don’t want to say anything other than what he’s told you. We have been talking settlement, just the two of us.”

Councilor Barry Peters said the deadlines of billing, and a recent revelation that Cashmere Valley Bank would finance the city if the alliance would provide a written agreement not to file suit against the bank, have helped advance negotiations.

“Sometimes, deadlines can bring people together,” he said. “So I’m hopeful this deadline will bring the city and the ratepayers alliance together. I think everyone involved is interested in finding a way to avoid the sewer surcharge.”

City Councilor Bill Knobloch said he is excited about the positive developments in negotiations, but declined to comment beyond that.

“I’m very pleased, he said. “It’s a positive step towards resolving the ratepayers alliance lawsuit.”

The next opportunity for the council to discuss, or if a settlement comes forward, approve, any aspect of the lawsuit is at the Jan. 13 meeting. The council met in executive session Wednesday night to discuss a legal action, but wouldn’t reveal specifics.

Sally Adams, secretary for the alliance, said the talks have been positive, but declined to comment beyond that.

The temporary surcharge was passed in order to cover the final upgrades to the Waste Water Treatment Plant.

The city was planning to cover the remaining cost of the upgrade of about $1.5 million with bonds, but the ongoing legal battle forced potential financiers to back off.

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