Last November, residents living in the Southlake area of unincorporated Lake Stevens got to vote on whether or not they wanted to become a part of the City of Lake Stevens. City officials and staff met with residents living in that area on several occasions, through their public outreach program, to discuss exactly what would take place along with any taxes and fees they would incur if annexed.
However, the City of Lake Stevens did not receive notification of the fee assessments until after these meetings. The City of Lake Stevens received notification from Snohomish County on Nov. 24, 2009 telling them that the County Council was considering an ordinance which would require newly annexed residents within Snohomish County to be charged a $15.01 fee that would pay the bond used to perform a surface water management study back in 2002.
“The City was not notified until Nov. 24, 2009 that the County Council would be considering an ordinance to charge newly annexed residents a surface water fee,” Lake Stevens City Administrator Jan Berg said. “Prior to then the City had held several community meetings to discuss annexation and this is information that we could have shared if we had known about it.”
The City of Lake Stevens filed their six-year annexation plan in 2005 at the request of the County. Since that time, Lake Stevens has annexed three areas including the Frontier Village, Soper Hill and North Lake areas into the city. Residents in these areas were not charged the SWM fee.
Lake Stevens was not the only city that was concerned about the fee assessments. In a letter to the County Council from Marysville Mayor Dennis Kendall it states, “nowhere does the statute provide authority to extend the assessment of such charges and fees to finance studies and reports.” The fees were most likely not charged earlier because the bond for the study was being paid for through real estate excise taxes but with the decline in the real estate market, those taxes also declined.
In April of 2009, the County pledged to pay back the bond with monies collected through surface water rates, however, the cities were not informed at that time.
Councilman Dave Somers voted to pass the ordinance while Councilman John Koster voted against assessing the charges to newly annexed residents. Somers did explain that previous annexations were not required to pay the assessed fee for the SWM study.
“It is now a charge passed on to all annexing areas that were part of the drainage needs study the County performed starting in about 2002,” County Councilman Dave Somers said. “The County bonded for that work to get it done quickly - we were being criticized by cities, including Lake Stevens, for not doing an adequate job of drainage planning for urban growth areas. We also included this charge in the recent Marysville annexation. If we did not continue to receive revenue from the annexing areas, the rest of the county taxpayers would have to pick up the extra costs, and since this drainage study was principally to benefit urban growth areas, that would not be fair either.”
“I voted against the ordinance because the fees were not included specifically in the Lake Stevens Interlocal (Agreement),” Koster said.
Somers did say that he has been working with SWM’s acting director Debbie Terwilleger and that she is continuing to work with the city.
“She indicated that the talks with Lake Stevens staff is still continuing and that SWM has proposed they host a public forum to explain the SWM fees. I do not think a date has been set but we will get the information out as soon as we know more,” Somers said.
The City Council is continuing talks regarding the fee being charged to newly annexed citizens and will continue to communicate with the county.
“I have inquiries into the County and will work with City Staff so see if there is a way to eliminate or reduce this tax. I hope to work with my colleagues on the City Council to bring a proposal to the Mayor to deal with this issue,” Lake Stevens City Council President Suzanne Quigley said. “I am very troubled to see the County levying this additional fee on residents of the newly annexed area. At the time of the annexation vote, I had no idea the County would be imposing this tax, and although some may say that because the tax is only $15 per year it is a minor matter, I don’t see it that way. It is a matter of fairness and this does not appear fair at all. To me, particularly in this economy, with so many facing tough times, this is a major issue.”