- Fees on utilities will be passed on to consumers
- Affects only those in unincorporated King County
- Adds up to $300 per year to utility bills.
- County Council, staff action done “below the radar.”
- Final public hearing Dec. 7, followed by vote to adopt.
- Kathy Lambert, Council representative including Sammamish, Issaquah, co-sponsored.
The King County Council is poised to adopt an ordinance intended to “coerce” utility companies and water and sewer districts into franchise fees to use street rights-of-way in order to raise millions of dollars in fees for the County’s general fund.
The problem—and there are many—is that the ordinance and use of funds is unlawful under state statutes, says a coalition of water districts that issued a press release today.
“Unlawful” vs “Illegal”
“Unlawful” is defined as not conforming to, permitted by, or recognized by law or rules.
This differs from “illegal,” which is defined as contrary to or forbidden by law.
Another problem: the King County Council provided only legal public notice, without publicizing this ordinance broadly to bring it to the attention of more than 247,000 people who live in unincorporated areas. As a result, there has been little feedback from residents.
Puget Sound Energy, with its electric and natural gas lines, is the principal power utility serving King County. There are 20 water and sewer districts in King County, including the Sammamish Plateau Water and Northeast Sammamish Water and Sewer Districts. Both serve unincorporated areas adjacent Sammamish and Issaquah.
The ordinance seeks to force utilities to enter into “franchise agreements,” which essentially require utilities to pay rent for use of streets rights-of-way, where water, sewer and electrical and gas lines often are buried.
However, under state law, the utilities already have the right to use these rights-of-way. Furthermore, the county doesn’t own these rights-of-way; the streets and roads lie atop easements from the adjacent properties. Under state law, the county can’t charge a fee for something it doesn’t own.
Use of funds
The County plans to use the proceeds from the fees to pump up the general fund, another unlawful element to the ordinance, the water districts say. The only permitted use is if the fees went into road capital projects and road maintenance funds.
Not all of the homes for more than 247,000 residents face the maximum $300 per year cost that utilities would pass through to them. Many homes are on septic tanks instead of sewer lines and on wells instead of piped-in water. Not all have natural gas. In reality, the new utility “tax” will be less than $300 per year per household for most.
But there are urban-style developments in King County that have all of these and prospectively face the maximum fee.
The total estimated proceeds to the County has not been disclosed by the County.
There were four sponsors of the legislation, on the nine-member Council. Kathy Lambert of District 3, which includes Sammamish, Issaquah and large swaths of unincorporated King County, was one of them.
Lambert, who just won reelection to another four-year term on the Council, touts her anti-tax philosophy and transparency in government. On her reelection website, Lambert touted her opposition to a proposed septic tank inspection fee, something associated with environmental protection.
But she co-sponsored and voted for this unlawful tax, without transparency to her constituents. As of today, the King Council Council website doesn’t list this ordinance‘s public hearing on Dec. 7.
Lambert’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org