10/05/2007: "Letters On Stormwater Fees"
Dear Councilman Rich Peterson:
Just finished reading the new stormwater draft. This is even worse than the original.
Why are you guys so hung up on simply collecting another fee/tax. Public works just received a huge increase in their annual budget, let them pay for it.
You have not identified a specific problem, you have not stated how you are going to fix the problem, you have not told us how much the problem is going to cost to solve and you have not specified how long this problem is going to run.
Using generic terms to define a problem ain't going to cut it. Many of us do not believe that there is a stormwater problem. If this is the avenue you intend to follow I can assure you that another Referendum is in the wings waiting to be filed. Unless of course you decide to put this stormwater ordinance to the voters prior to action.
This funding vehicle is NOT mandated by the GMA. There are many other funding options that this Council simply refuses to address.
San Juan Island
To the Editor:
I believe that a ”Thank You” is in order to Alexandra Gavora. In case you have been living in a cave for the past eight or nine months, she is the citizen that took on our County Government and WON. After she filed the first referendum ever in San Juan County, got enough signatures to validate the referendum, endured the expense and trauma of a lawsuit by the County Council and Prosecutor (which was eventually dropped) the referendum made it to the ballot. So far the referendum is winning by 62% to 38%, even in the face of an advertising campaign (the slick glossy mailer we all paid for) by the County Council.
I hope that our County Council is paying attention. In 2004, the then Board of County Commissioner, completely ignored 74% of the voters in favor of the special interest groups on the guesthouse issue. They even had the gall to say the voters did not understand or know what they were voting for. I don’t think I would recommend saying that again. Now the citizens have given them another mandate, go back and come up with a different funding vehicle for our stormwater utility and fix the other flaws in your ordinance. I hope they do not ignore the voters again.
The referendum process has allowed us to take back control of our government. They would be wise to pay attention. The next election could easily have another referendum on the ballot at the same time three of the sitting Council Members are running for election. I would think that the thought of that would make them listen.
Thank You Alex, for all your hard work and determination. The system does work and you can fight city hall and win.
Ray BiglerSan Juan Island
To the Editor:
I served on the Storm Water Citizens Committee, and I am encouraging the citizens of San Juan County to vote to reject the current storm water utility funding ordinance.
The Council did a good job of putting together a group of qualified and thoughtful citizens to evaluate storm water impacts in San Juan County and then recommend how the County should fund the State’s requirement that all cities and counties institute a storm water management program. Unfortunately for the citizens of San Juan County, the Council left out key provisions of the Committee’s recommendations when they implemented the ordinance.
The Committee was unanimous in their belief that the County should not be given a blank check in perpetuity for funding storm water abatement. The Council left out two key elements in the Committees recommendation: that the County appoint a citizens storm water oversight committee to review the proposed projects and budgets, and that there be a “sunset” provision in the ordinance that would require the County to evaluate the funding stream and progress after either 3 or 6 years.
The general feeling on the Storm Water Committee was that the storm water fee being charged should actually solve real storm water problems and that once the work was done, most if not all of the fee or tax should go away. The Committee felt that the fee should not simply become another revenue stream for County government.
As to the funding itself, the Committee felt that an across the board fee on property owners was something that could be justified. Since the Committee made its fee collection recommendation, it has become clear that a more targeted approach is what the citizens of the County expect. It is being pointed out that current storm water regulations require a person who creates new impervious surfaces to deal with the excess storm water their development creates at their own expense. Further, that the existing storm water problems are local to specific watersheds and should be dealt with and paid for by those areas.
I had hoped that the Council would step up to the plate and make the adjustments in the ordinance. They have not. Therefore, I recommend that the voters reject the current ordinance and send it back to the Council.
Thank you for listening.
To the Editor:
Others among the County Council have shared their views on the upcoming ballot’s Storm Water Referendum and I am writing to offer my own. As this letter will explain, I oppose ordinance 20-2006. If this position prevails, the ordinance adopted by the County Council will be rejected by the voters.
I would like to note for the record that I believe all of my Council colleagues are competent, well-intentioned, and dedicated to good government for San Juan County. In the current controversy as well as others the six of us have encountered, perspectives and fundamental values often differ but we make every attempt to disagree agreeably and acknowledge differing positions with respect. I believe this essential recognition of the right and responsibility to express conflicting viewpoints is part of what the freeholders intended when they drafted the charter and it is critical to serving the public’s interest. The referendum provision within the charter is, in my opinion, the heart of “home rule,” and the Storm Water Referendum offers an excellent opportunity to implement it.
The Storm Water Funding Referendum petitions signed by nearly 2,000 citizens, provided an early exercise of the referendum provision and promoted closer scrutiny of the ordinance (20-2006) the Council approved. This scrutiny produced enough recognition of flaws that I believe now that the majority of the Council is committed to making some changes in the ordinance regardless of the outcome of the vote.
I will vote to reject Ordinance 20-2006 because I believe the degree to which the Council will commit to addressing the flaws and the urgency with which we will undertake such corrections are dependent upon the outcome of the vote. A rejection of the ordinance by the voters will require the Council to accord this issue a very high priority. I disagree with those who have argued that a rejection will require us to “return to square one,” with all the attendant costs of time and expense involved. I am convinced that we could create a new ordinance that would correct the major flaws within a few days of concentrated effort.
The new ordinance I envision would closely relate the assessment property owners pay to the benefit they receive, and would incorporate more of the recommendations advanced by the citizens’ advisory committee. While we will probably never be able to please everyone, I think we can do far better.
Regardless of the outcome on the vote, this referendum will be tremendously instructive for the County Council in responding to citizen initiatives in the future.
SJ County Councilman
To the Editor:
Recommendations were made in the various studies and reports to the SJC Storm Water Utility by the paid consultant FCS, Inc., addressing point source storm water problems, and project specific solutions
These recommendations for targeting individual site specific projects did not make it into the language of Ordinance No 20-2006. Instead a slush fund was created for Public Works without the delineation, and perhaps recognition of, the complexity of the problems to be targeted, and the variety of solutions possible.
Instead of appreciating this diversity, rural property owners were selected as the funding source, while they are the section of the population that has been forced to be in compliance.
The non-point “pollution” (sediment, run-off) issue; appurtenant to rural sites, has been addressed in San Juan County by the Building Department since the UDC was put in place in 1998.
Since then requirements have tightened with the adoption by the County of the King County storm water regulations, and now the mandates of the 2005 Department of Ecology Storm Water Manual.
Under current regulations, approved and enforced by the SJC Department of Public Works, all building plans for development and re-development; which include the issues of soil disturbing activity and the increase in impermeable surfaces, must be approved by Public Works prior to a building permit being issued.
Property owners in San Juan County have been required to meet these regulations regarding any development projects for over ten years now. These mandates have been a very real expense for them, whether between the owner and his contractor, or the owner and the County.
The enforcement of these policies is having effect. With the passage of time, the seasonal streams are being identified. Water is being confined to the individual parcels. The possibility of non-point pollution being an issue is growing smaller with the issuance of each permit.
Taxing each parcel under the rubric that these property owners are just paying their share is a non-starter. They have already paid, and in doing so mitigated their storm water problems.
The rural property owners have been, and will continue to address this concern by mandate. The County needs to re-visit this subject and address the non-rural issues: the roads and urban areas.
Vote To Reject the Ordinance. This subject needs work.
San Juan Island
To the editor:
I am writing in regards to the referendum on the stormwater ordinance. I am in support of the referendum because I am not in support of how Public Works has decided to spend the money.
Specifically, at the top of a list of "capital projects" (which seems to have been developed with little or no public input or "best available science") is implementation of an out-dated plan to collect stormwater from throughout Eastsound Village and dump it into East Sound. In addition, and more importantly, it is my understanding that all bond monies previously collected by Public Works from developers in Eastsound for use in installing a stormwater collection system "sometime in the future" will not be taken into account when their properties are assessed under the new tax.
Also, I understand that a large number of the rest of the capital projects amount to culvert and ditch upgrades where road flooding is a regular problem, something the road department already is doing. There is no indication that an effort is being made to analyze or address the upstream causes of that flooding.
If a "new" program, with a "new" funding mechanism, is to be established, it seems to me that a "new" database, such a "stormwater watershed" base map, ought to first be created, to look at ways to reduce flooding. Work backwards from the culverts to see what’s happening, don't just put in bigger culverts.
Finally, as effective as The Friends have been in collecting data about the nearshore environment, its disconcerting that they have not called for a similar effort in regards to watershed planning - which should include runoff as well as infiltration analysis. And make no mistake: watersheds are the ONLY way to think about this. We have a complex geological and biological landscape, and on a case-by-case basis, runoff behaves according to an incredibly complex set of site-specific criteria.
I will vote against the referendum if I know that my tax dollars will first go to research and analysis, not to dumping greater quantities of freshwater into East Sound's saltwater, and bigger culverts.
San Juan Island
Land Use Planner
To the editor:
I am again compelled to point out the misinformation that is being regurgitated about the Stormwater Referendum.
Most recently is Councilman Rosenfeld’s letter to the editor ”Approve the Referendum” ( letter is second one below this letter).
1. The Council has NOT agreed to tweak this ordinance. Some of you have talked about it and have agreed that it needs it, but as Councilman Knapp stated, “No motion has been made or adopted”. Instead of agreeing to tweak the ordinance you voted to support the ordinance and sent out an expensive mailer that talked more about the Stormwater Utility than it did about the Stromwater Ordinance 20-2006 that is on the ballot.
2. If the Referendum is rejected you will NOT have to start over with another citizens committee. The County Council is authorized to adjust this ordinance at any time by the language in the ordinance and if rejected can fix it without starting over. The Council could have done this instead of suing the citizen that brought forward this referendum. Then there would be no need to REJECT ORDINANCE 20-2006 and send it back to the Council for “tweaking”
Just because the County Council has stated that the Ordinance has some problems does not mean that They will do anything about it. Merely the fact that you all, save one, agreed to support your own ordinance, and not fix it now, tells me all I need to know.
There has been ample opportunity to repair the flaws in the ordinance and the Council stubbornly ignored the almost 2000 voters that signed the petition, and refused to amend the ordinance. Now we must REJECT ORDINANCE 20-2006 so that it can be fixed.
This vote is not about Stormwater, it is about an unfair Tax/Fee that was added to our property taxes, and it is about the flaws in the Ordinance.
San Juan Island
To the editor,
Among other morbidly amusing county activities, it's interesting that our primary flood water problem last winter, Bailer Hill Road, which may need only some drainage cleaning or a few feet of fill to raise the grade, remains untouched. Well, at least they're on top of global warming, the Iraq war, and the protection of whales.
The slick voters "information" mailing on the upcoming referendum on the new fee was as vague and misleading as the one a few months ago on the "need" for a new transfer station on San Juan.
The council should try to stop embarrassing themselves. You're embarrassing those you represent too.
Vote against the fee.
To The Editor:
There are solid reasons to support the Stormwater Ordinance and reject the Referendum. The County’s stormwater funding is State mandated. Rejecting the Stormwater Ordinance will not make it go away. We have to do it one way or another. The Ordinance might need some tweaking and the Council has agreed to do this. However, if the Referendum is rejected and we have to start over with another citizen committee, there will be significant cost to the County. And because there just aren’t that many choices, we’re bound to end up with something very close to what we have now. Even the Stormwater Ordinance opponents admit the original committee did a good job.
The Council will look at the issues important to the opponents: the administrative overhead; the appeal process; a 3-5 year review process and sunset clause: reduced fee for islands without County roads; credits for stormwater mitigations; special consideration for farms; and UGA assessments.
Island specific funding has been suggested. Aren’t we all in this together? The projects, over time, will be fairly spread throughout the County. Do we want island specific road and park funds too? Also, the argument that this is a tax, not a fee, is false. There are many court tests backing this as a fee, and the existing fee is low compared to other counties.
Approve the Referendum which will support the existing County Stormwater Ordinance. Please contact me (378-5788) if you have questions.
Howard Howie Rosenfeld
To the Editor:
Disagree 1. Rural property owners should pay the cost of storm water projects that promote growth in urban areas of San Juan County.
Disagree 2. Developers who own vacant lots in urban areas should be able to benefit financially from publicly funded construction of storm water facilities that serve their property but should not be required pay for those improvements.
Disagree 3. The Public Works Department should be allowed to divert water into and around Class I & II wetlands even though our laws prevent this.
Disagree 4. Rural Landowners should not be given any exemptions to storm water fees for installing mitigation measures, such as rain catchment systems, to prevent storm water from leaving their property.
Disagree 5. A rural landowner who builds a pond to create habitat and retain storm water on an otherwise undeveloped parcel should be penalized.
Disagree 6. Public Works should not be required to actually build any facilities with the fees collected in the first year (782k) but instead they should be allowed to use it to fund misleading brochures designed to defeat this citizens referendum.
Disagree 7. All ditches along County roads should be considered “storm water facilities” and all property owners should pay penalties even if water from their roofs never reach these ditches.
Disagree 8. We can trust Public Works to protect our environment and spend our money wisely.
Disagree 9. If the Public Works department is the direct beneficiary of taxpayer funds then they should also be in charge of calculating, assessing, and spending those funds as well as serving as judge and jury over taxpayer appeals.
Disagree 10. An owner of undeveloped forest land should be able to clear cut his trees and pay no storm water fees, while churches, schools, cemeteries, and public buildings should be forced to pay these fees.
Did you circle “Disagree” to any of the above questions? If so you should vote to reject the Ordinance. Rejecting the Ordinance gives the Council direction to go back and bring us one that we can all agree with!
San Juan Island
To the Editor:
In a few days, we will receive ballots giving all San Juan County voters an opportunity to decide whether to approve or reject the ordinance that sets the County’s Stormwater Utility Fees. I urge you to mark the “approved” box on your ballot on this extremely important issue.
The ordinance sets up a simple, fair and affordable fee system to deal with storm water required by law. Proper management of stormwater run-off can increase our supply of drinking water, prevent flooding on our roads and property, and reduce pollutants entering our marine waters. Even opponents of the ordinance that funds the Stormwater Utility acknowledge the importance of dealing with these problems. Their contention is that there must be a better way to raise the money to do it.
I disagree with the opponents. The stormwater ordinance is based on the recommendations of an advisory committee comprised of citizens from a broad cross-section of our community. And I am convinced that this ordinance is the best starting point:
The fees are low – all homeowners and 90% of all property owners pay just $3.85 per month, less than half of what residents of Friday Harbor pay to their Stormwater Utility.
The fee structure is fair – It assesses fees only on developed property-- property that contributes to stormwater run-off, may benefit from stormwater management, and whose residents use our roads, business districts, and urban areas.
The cost of calculating and collecting the fees is low -- The County Assessor, Treasurer, and County Administrator do not have to hire additional people, collect additional information, or create new systems to calculate the fees, thereby keeping the administrative costs low.
The fee structure is based on a detailed investigation of alternatives-- A diverse and dedicated group of citizens worked with consultants over a period of five months to develop this fee structure. They tested many different and more costly ways to apportion the fees. After much study, the committee members unanimously recommended the fee structure we adopted.
The County Council has the authority to adjust the Stormwater Utility fee structure. I can assure you that, as we gain additional information and experience from the Stormwater Utility, the Council will re-examine the fees in keeping with the recommendations of the citizens' advisory committee.
We need to deal with our storm water run-off now as required by law. By choosing “Approved” on the Referendum 2007-1 ballot item, we can ensure that the Stormwater Utility has a simple, fair, and affordable fee structure to fund its work.
Chair, SJ County Council
To the Editor:
The detractors are working very hard to muddy the waters around the issues of Referendum 2007-1. This Referendum is ONLY about the method of funding that the County Council chose to fund the Stormwater Utility District.
It does nothing to change the Ordinance that created the Stormwater Utility in any way. There are those that do not have a sound argument that would have you believe otherwise.
Referendum 2007-1 was signed by almost 2000 voters in order to give the citizens an opportunity to REJECT Ordinance 20-2006. This would repeal the unfair tax/fee that was added to our property taxes and send the funding issue back to the County Council to find a more equitable method of funding.
Some argue that this was the method recommended by a committee of citizens. That is only partially true.
There were other methods that were also recommended by this committee and they were rejected. There are also other items that were recommended by this committee that were ignored.
One of those was a Sunset Clause or a time specific date that this Ordinance would run before it terminated or came up for review. THERE IS NO SUNSET CLAUSE OR ENDING DATE IN THIS ORDINANCE.
Some of the misinformation being spread around would have you believe that the Ordinance ends or comes up for review in three or six years. NOT TRUE. This is not stated anywhere in the funding ordinance.
The way it is worded, this Ordinance can run forever. There is also no limit on how much they can raise this tax/fee to. A promise to review is like a campaign promise, hollow, empty and worthless. If you still believe campaign promises, call me, I have some Ocean front property in Kansas I would like to sell you.
Public works has always taken care of the ditches along our county roads and used existing road funds to do so. Now all of a sudden, according to some, we must have a new tax/fee imposed on property owners in order to accomplish this or all of our waters are going to be polluted. GET REAL.
These scare tactics are getting old and tiresome. If you look closely you will find that a “Road Levy Shift” was done to balance the County budget. That means road funds were shifted and used for something other than roads, yet we need a new tax/fee to keep our ditches clean? Now just think about that for a second.
VOTE TO REJECT ORDINANCE 20-2006
San Juan Island
To the Editor:
The Board of the Friends of the San Juans voted unanimously recently to support the County’s Stormwater Ordinance. The Friends urge citizens to VOTE NO on the Referendum to repeal the ordinance.
San Juan County is obligated by State law to address this issue as are the other 11 Puget Sound Counties. The consequence of inaction is a continuing decline in our environment that we all love and hope to enjoy forever. Fewer salmon, fewer seabirds, fewer orca.
Let’s take a fair look at this issue. Do all of us use the roads? Do all of us shop in stores? Do we eat at restaurants? Do we take our family members and visitors around the county to see and enjoy the sights? Do we park our cars in ferry loading parking lots? If we need and use the services located in the “villages”, aren’t we as responsible as the actual residents?
The Friends of the San Juans believes we contributed the problem. We all have a responsibility to contribute to the solution.
Stormwater causes damage to property, drinking water, and fish and wildlife habitat. A consequence of us living here, is that we create more impervious surfaces – roofs, driveways, and parking lots which transport pollutants such as petroleum products, heavy metals, animal waste and sediments into nearby creeks and marine waters.
Some people have said that stormwater management is a problem for Eastsound and Lopez Village. They have asked, “Why should we all have to pay for the problems caused by “those people” who live in those places”.
How can we best contribute to a solution? The Council formed a citizen’s advisory group to study the issue and suggest a solution. They made their recommendations, form a Stormwater Utility District and impose a fee on all developed parcels. Is there a better solution? Is there a better way to financially support such a district? Perhaps, but for now this is the right step in the right direction for managing stormwater.
Should the process start over? No! At some point we have to have faith in the judgment from the citizens who are asked to provide advice to the County Council. The group of citizens who worked on this issue have demonstrated a past history of leadership and good judgment.
Can we afford not to act? No.
Any hope that we have to preserve the environment means that we must better manage the consequences of development today.
Your vote AGAINST the Referendum is a vote for the environment and responsible stewardship.
President, FRIENDS of the San Juans
To the Editor:
On Tuesday October 2nd our County Council voted 5 to 1 to support their Stormwater Tax (they call it a fee) that was added to our property taxes. Rather than remain neutral while the Referendum to repeal this tax goes before the voters, they decided to use the County Checkbook and Spin Doctor to forward their position. They have already cost the petitioner of the Referendum thousands of dollars in legal fees even though they dropped their lawsuit against this citizen several weeks ago. Is there no end to this abuse of the taxpayers?
Make no mistake, this Referendum is not about Stormwater, it is however about the funding ordinance that the County Council passed to fund their stormwater projects. The bottom line, taxpayers of San Juan County will be paying approximately another $800,000.00 per year into Public Works.
I for one do not believe that this Council will do anything unless pressure from the voters forces them to act. By rejecting the Ordinance 20-2006 they will be forced to revisit this issue and maybe, just maybe, find a solution that is fair and equitable to everyone.
Don’t be fooled into believing that this is against stormwater control. It is not. It is only about the method of funding.
VOTE TO REJECT Ordinance 20-2006 when you receive your ballot. Force our Council to take another look at how they fund our stormwater projects.
San Juan Island
To the Editor:
Reject the Eastsound UGA tax, or "Stormwater Service Fee" as County government calls it.
Hanna Arendt defines a revolution as "a change so radical that the subjects become the rulers themselves." America had one of those once, and subjects did rule for a few years. Since then, however, we've again settled for tyranny, which people living in the metaphorical Green Zone like to call "leadership."
Next election day we have a chance at a second revolution, an opportunity to prove that we are not the servile cash cows that our "leaders" would like us to be, that we will not drop to our knees at the sound of the old lie "growth is inevitable."
Of course SJC needs to control and treat stormwater, but ord.20-2006 will only benefit a few developers by aiding the County's efforts to make Eastsound an Urban Growth Area. The people harmed by that "leadership" decision didn't get to vote on it, but now they can.
(Read additional letters by clicking here)