King County nears adoption of “unlawful,” “secret” tax

  • 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.
Kathy Lambert, co-sponsor of a bill labeled “unlawful” that would impose a new tax on unincorporated King County households. Photo via Google images.

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.

Utilities affected

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.

Ordinance goal

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.

Sponsors

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 kathy.lambert@kingcounty.gov

9 thoughts on “King County nears adoption of “unlawful,” “secret” tax”

  1. When is this sort of thing going to stop? I’m on a fixed income and seem to be living “above my means” more and more with antics like this.

  2. The King County Council has again lost their way. If they need more money in the general fund, why don’t they do something positive like recinding the insane ordinance to establish “safe sites” for addicts to shoot up. I am very disappointed to learn that Kathy Lambert is a co-sponsor of this unlawful legislation. I wish I was able to change my vote in the last election – – – next time.

    1. Wally let’s talk as the information given out by the water districts is not fully accurate. This is the same fee that people who live in cities already pay. Having some people pay and some not could be a ‘gift of public funds”. Our attorneys have advised that this is legal and this fee has NOT been implemented yet. The attorneys are working on the rules and legal framework. They idea that it is $300 a year is also not accurate. That has not yet been decided but the ordinance puts a $5 a month cap on each utility. So there is more to the story than what the water districts are saying. This ordinance was done a year ago and was posted, we had several public hearings and was in the paper. So it was not a hidden issue and the implementation has not even happened yet.

      1. What Kathy Lambert doesn’t tell you is that (according to the County’s own website and its own uploads), the only “in the paper” legal notice was October 26 2016; the ordinance was introduced Oct. 24. Budget and Finance Committee meeting was held Nov. 1 with a recommend Do Pass.

        The public hearing was Nov. 7 and the County Council passed it the same day.

        This has all the look and feel of sleight-of-hand action to ram this ordinance through without the public being aware.

        Puget Sound Energy protested the rapidity of the actions. See their letter: http://kingcounty.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=4759815&GUID=2DD2CFB5-1C9B-48A6-A6DE-EC94B6E6006A

        The entire County link is here: http://kingcounty.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2865756&GUID=EE894052-CCE2-4E60-A8DC-1CA56DC75BB1

        The County finance committee went into executive session to address legal issues. See one of the videos.

        The public hearing (such as it may have been) was not video-archived. Nor was the Oct. 24 portion of the County Council where this ordinance was introduced and referred archived on the link above.

        If this is not an attempt to keep the public in the dark, I don’t know what is. Having been in government myself, this is how you ram something through before the public becomes aware and before public comment/opposition can emerge.

  3. Let’s see now.. $5/month, that’s $60/yr per utility, so that’s water, sewer, gas, electric, cable tv/internet, phone. That’s 6 utilities, at $60 per annum, that’s a $360/yr cap.

  4. Kathy Lambert also sat on a regional council that discussed the issue of having a septic inspection program put in place in King County with an associated fee – something most of the other Puget Sound counties already had. She was part of the unanimous vote by that council in favor of instituting such a program, yet as it began to move forward here, turned face and riled up her constituents against it.

      1. This program would have been for Rural Unincorporated parcels. If your local municipality requires an inspection, you probably live inside some city’s boundary.

  5. Give Kathy a break. Not everyone can do simple math! lol. Yes, there is a LOT more to the story for sure. She has a lot of balls posting what she did. We are so stupid, right Kathy? Next election, do NOT vote for this deceptive woman.

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