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Island County water utility tax meetings on tap

Island County commissioners have set three public meetings around the county to talk to citizens about controversial plans to create a clean water utility and an accompanying fee.

The commissioners also spent hours in meetings with three department heads over the last two weeks figuring out important details of the concept they will be presenting to the public. The utility is designed as a comprehensive set of programs to protect water resources.

The first public meeting will be at the Camano Senior Center Tuesday, Nov. 30 from 6 to 8 p.m. The second will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 8, at Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland. The third meeting will 6 to 8 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 9, at the Coupeville Recreation Hall.

After that, the commissioners will have to hold an official public meeting before the clean water utility can be adopted. The date hasn’t been set, but it’s expected to be in December.

Under the current proposal, the residential fee for the first phase would be $24.44 per parcel per year. In the second year, the fee would jump to $39.13 per parcel. But at the same time, the unpopular $62 septic fee will cancelled. The total program in the first phase will cost $1.044 million; the second phase will cost $1.669 million a year.

The commissioners were concerned about the size of the fee some businesses would be facing and so decided on sizable discounts for commercial and industrial properties for the first three years. Keith Higman, services director for the health department, said the three-year discount will give businesses time to enact mitigation measures, such as rain gardens or storm water management plans, that will permanently reduce the fee.

In addition, property zoned agriculture and parcels in sewer, draining and diking districts will receive discounts that won’t expire.

Under the proposed plan, the rate for commercial and industrial property is based on the amount of impervious surface. The owners of the property will pay the base or residential fee for each 5,000 square feet of impervious surface, which causes polluted surface runoff. Since many businesses have small amounts of pavement, those owners will only pay the basic $24.44 in the first phase and $39.13 afterward.

But the commissioners are offering a 50 percent discount for each “multiplier,” or additional basic fee after the first, for three years. In other words, the discount doesn’t apply to the first $39.13.

Technical Services, Inc., in Oak Harbor, for example, has about 110,000 square feet of impervious surface, according to county documents. That’s a multiplier of 22. So the company would be charged $281.06 the first year, followed by $450 the second and third year. If the company didn’t do any mitigation, it would pay $860.86 each year after.

Under the proposal, fees for parcels in agriculture zones will be discounted by 25 percent. People who live in sewer districts won’t have to help fund the county’s septic program so their fees will be discounted by 21 percent in the first phase and 13 percent in the second.

Likewise, people who have property in drainage and diking districts are already paying for stormwater management, so the county will exempt them from paying for that portion of the county’s program. It amounts to a 29 percent discount in the first phase and a 42 percent discount in the second.

Three departments in the county will run the interrelated programs, which include the septic inspection program, a hydrogeologist, surface water monitoring, drainage construction outside of roadways, salmon recovery, shellfish protection, low-impact development coordination, watershed basin coordination and enforcement of the critical areas ordinance.

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