County's solid waste parcel fee won't apply in Friday Harbor

Legally, property owners can be charged an annual fee that would help bolster the county’s floundering solid waste operation without the say-so of local voters. Instead, the county council has opted to put the proposal on the November ballot.

Prosecuting Attorney Randy Gaylord said that whatever parcel fee proposal the council finally settles on must be placed before all the voters of the county, even those who would be exempt or excused from paying the fee.

“They don’t have to do that,” Gaylord said of the council’s decision to seek voter approval. “But if they do, they have to ask all the voters. They can’t pick and choose.”

This means, he added, that town voters will be able to weigh in on the measure even though such a fee would not apply within the boundaries of the town of Friday Harbor, should it pass.

In a turnaround from an earlier opinion, Gaylord several weeks ago informed the council that the parcel fee would apply only to the “unincorporated areas” of the county. Friday Harbor, as an incorporated town, operates its own solid-waste utility and determines for itself the means by which garbage and recycling will be collected within its boundaries.

Of the county’s 11,516 registered voters, 1,285 live in Friday Harbor, or roughly 11.2 percent of the total.

The council was expected on Tuesday to put the finishing touches on its solid-waste parcel fee proposal. It would then go back before the council in the form of a proposed ordinance and ballot measure, and for final approval at a public hearing. The deadline to submit a ballot measure to the county auditor and have it appear as part of the November election is Aug. 10.

A week ago, the council agreed – though tentatively – on an annual fee of $110 a year as a basic charge for a household or single-family residence, and on a slightly lower charge that would apply to each guest room of a hotel, inn or bed and breakfast. The fee for commercial properties will likely depend on a combination of size (square footage) and type, such as retail, manufacturing or recreation.

County Councilman Rich Peterson said the loss of revenue from town properties would equal roughly $700,000 to $800,000 over the six-year period that the parcel is expected to be in place.

The council, he said, must still pin down an assortment of “moving parts” to turn its parcel-fee proposal into a ballot measure, such as how much to spend on the San Juan Island transfer station, which the county leases from the town, whether the two entities can strike a longer-term lease, and the amount of revenue to seek from a bond sale, as well as the payback period, with help of the parcel fee to finance those payments.

Lopez Port looks at managing solid waste

This May, the Port of Lopez appointed a citizens advisory committee to study the feasibility of managing the solid waste facility. The concept of a port-run dump has been dubbed the “Solid Waste Alternatives Project.”

The committee has nearly reached its goal of hearing from 50 percent of the Lopez population.

“The challenges confronting solid waste are very real and serious, but the motivating notion behind SWAP is that these issues are best worked out on a local level,” said committee member Ed Kilduff.

Funding choices include membership fees, existing taxes, new taxes, or some combination. If the port moves forward with SWAP, commissioners will negotiate an inter-local agreement with the county to take over management of the Lopez facility. Prosecuting attorney Randy Gaylord said that counties generally have wide authority to enter into contracts with other government agencies and companies for the disposal of solid waste.


— Islands' Sounder Editor Colleen Smith Armstrong contributed to this article.


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