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Stormwater Utility hearings will be scheduled soon

The San Juan County Council’s Stormwater Subcommittee is ready to schedule community meetings on Lopez, Orcas and San Juan islands to provide information and receive public input on its proposal to re-establish and fund a Stormwater Utility.

The ordinance establishing the previous Stormwater Utility was overturned in a referendum election last November.

“The subcommittee has spent nearly nine months studying and debating the utility’s mission and different means of funding it,” Subcommittee Chairman Rich Peterson said in a press release. “And I think we have come up with something that addresses the county’s needs as well as the citizens’ concerns that were expressed in the referendum.”

The legal language of the ordinance is still being drafted by the county prosecutor’s office, according to county spokesman Stan Matthews. However, the subcommittee has put together a detailed outline of its proposal.

The proposal calls for the utility to be funded by a fee structure that includes a flat-rate fee to cover the cost of the utility’s administration, drainage basin studies and a program to assist landowners reduce run-off and comply with stormwater regulation requirements. A second portion of the fee will cover the capital cost of constructing infrastructure to handle stormwater.

In its community meetings, the subcommittee will seek public input on three possible means of allocating the capital costs:

— Share Equally. All non-exempt parcels in the county would be charged a flat fee totaling about $64 per year.

— Allocate Island by Island: Fees charged to parcels on each island would pay the full cost of infrastructure on that island. There would be no capital charge to residents of islands where no construction takes place.

The first year’s fees on this basis would range from about $24 on islands where there is no construction, to $104 on Orcas Island.

— The “50%-25%-25%” fee: Half of each project’s construction cost would be divided evenly among parcels countywide. Each island would pay the other half of the cost of the projects built on that island, with parcels inside the Urban Growth Boundaries paying a higher percentage of the cost of facilities located within the UGA itself.

The first year’s fees would range from approximately $44 on islands with no construction to $228 in Lopez Village.

(All fees quoted above are approximate, based on the current five-year construction plan and the 2008 tax parcel count)

Under each option, the capital fee would vary from year to year as new projects are scheduled and others are completed. A citizens committee will be formed to consider how such things as size of impervious area and voluntary steps taken to reduce run-off should be taken into account.

Peterson, who represents North San Juan Island on the County Council, said the subcommittee has tentatively endorsed the “50%-25%-25%” fee plan.

“At this point, we feel it best reflects the countywide interest in dealing with stormwater, while still assessing a greater percentage of the cost to those who will benefit most directly from the capital projects,” he said.

The council must adopt a funding mechanism by the end of November in order to have the fee appear on next year’s property tax bills.

The Growth Management Act requires the county to implement a stormwater management plan. Earlier this year, the council approved authority for an internal loan from the county road fund to meet a Regional Growth Management Hearings Board requirement to guarantee funding for stormwater management projects in Eastsound.

The Stormwater Utility fee has been designed to cover the full cost of projects countywide, including the Eastsound projects.

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