03/31/2008: "April 2nd: Fundraiser For Stormwater Legal Costs"
The County Council has released their long awaited draft stormwater ordinance, and for some it is already being called a step backward (letter to Councilman Petersen) from the original stormwater funding ordinance that resulted in expensive legal action by citizens opposed to it, and then by the County Council who in response to the filing of the first county initiative, attempted to keep the matter from coming to a vote of the people.
A fund raising party by supporters of the initiative that killed the first funding ordinance has been scheduled for Wednesday the 2th, both as a celebration of the initiative, and also as a means to pay off the legal bill that Alex Gavora incurred as a result of walking in and simply filing the initiative -an act that resulted in her being sued by the County Council.
The new draft has not been well greeted by those who helped to get the initiative on the ballot last year, and depending on how the draft evolves as a result of input from the yet to be scheduled public meetings that are intended to test the waters of voter approval of the draft, a new initiative could be in the offering.
The funding ordinance the voters rejected last year set an annual county wide fee of $42.60 for all developed property, plus a 50% surcharge inside unincorporated Urban Growth Boundaries.
The new ordinance sets a “A Basic Stormwater Fee” of $6.00 a year on all parcels; with the exception of classified forest and timber land. All other land, developed or not, and regardless of any mitigation that may have been installed by the landowner to offset the impacts of stormwater, will be subject to the fee.
That is the basic idea, but early on the ordinance makes it clear that it is to be a dynamic document subject to change. The introduction to the Guidelines for Storm Water Fees ends with the open ended phrase “..and may include the following”.
To those experienced in the ways of government, this sets off alarm bells that the fees may (will?) start to expand just about the same time some of the money is spent “paying all or any part of the cost and expense of …planning, designing, establishing…any or such facilities” related to stormwater.
County Council’s Stormwater Ordinance Subcommittee Chair Rich Peterson emphasized the ordinance is “preliminary,” and that it does not mandate any specific permanent fee structure, but suggests a number of factors to consider in deciding who will pay how much.
The ordinance suggests possible fee reductions for non-profit organizations, senior citizens and persons with disabilities.. The draft does address one objection to the original ordinance ( related past story) and that was a call for a sunset clause. The draft ordinance includes a 6-year sunset date which would force a review of progress, continued need, and possible passage of the same, or new ordinance; in which case there would be public hearings.
A statement of fees will be included with the first half San Juan County property tax statements. Unlike true property taxes, appeals go to the SJC Auditor, not the board of equalization, however, “in the same manner as regular property taxes. Any delinquent amount shall be a lien on the property which lien may be foreclosed on the same manner as regular property tax levy”.
The draft was formally introduced by the County Council’s Stormwater Ordinance Subcommittee Chair Rich Peterson, who stated “We would like to introduce it to the Council and then do a road show to give the public a chance to comment on it.”.
It is possible for the full Council to make changes to the draft at anytime, including prior to the “road show” , but the general public and the Council are not the only ones that will be involved, and this is where that “may” may come into play.
The Council will appoint a seven member citizens committee to review the “needs, apply them to appropriate elements, and recommend the fees needed (emphasis added) to the Council in time for the annual budget cycle.”
County staff is currently working to develop the funded six year capital facilities plan. which must be completed by a Growth Management Act compliance date in June.
The Council indicated that a formal public hearing on the ordinance would not be scheduled until after the Council’s Subcommittee gathers more public input at community meetings.