State Sen. Chase’s bill to prevent City of Shoreline from assuming Ronald Wastewater District without a vote passes Senate but dies in House

Thursday, March 27, 2014

By Evan Smith

A bill sponsored by Democratic State Sen. Maralyn Chase would have ensured that voters in the Ronald Wastewater District get to vote on whether the City of Shoreline could take over sewer services in the area.

It passed the Senate in late February but died in the House of Representatives, which sent it back to the Senate rules committee on the final day of the legislative session, March 13.

The bill would give voters in a water or sewer district control over whether a city or town can assume jurisdiction of the district.

 “We have seen takeovers in the past that have been controversial, divisive and costly,” Chase said when the bill passed the Senate. “It’s time to update the laws to make sure that any changes in jurisdictional authority properly recognize the will of the people.”

Chase said that the bill would have updated state laws to ensure that current-day assumptions reflect the values of Article II of the State Constitution, which says, “The people reserve to themselves the power to propose bills, laws and to enact or reject the same at the polls, independent of the legislature, and also reserve power, at their own option, to approve or reject at the polls any act, item, section, or part of any bill, act, or law passed by the legislature.”

The bill passed the Senate on a 37-10 vote before the House sent it back to the Senate.

Chase said that the bill’s referendum clause would force the Ronald Board of Commissioners, should they agree to the assumption of the sewer district by the City of Shoreline, to put the assumption to a vote of the people if district voters get signatures from 10 percent of registered voters in the district.

“This bill will ensure that the democratic process can work the way it was meant to work,” Chase said. “Let the people vote. If it’s truly in the public’s best interest for the City of Shoreline to assume the Ronald Sewer District, then the Ronald Board of Commissioners should have nothing to fear from a vote by the ratepayers.”

Utility taxes are among the most regressive taxes levied on citizens. For example, low-income working families pay 17 percent of their income in taxes compared to wealthy families who pay only 2.8 percent.

“Our state, sadly, has the most regressive system of taxation in the United States,” Chase said. “We are No. 1 in taxing poor people and No. 50 in taxing wealthy people. This backwards policy must be reversed, and this bill is a good first start.”

Chase represents the 32nd Legislative District, including Shoreline and the small unincorporated area of southwest Snohomish County that is part of the Ronald Wastewater District, along with Woodway, south Edmonds and nearby unincorporated areas of southwest Snohomish County, Lynnwood and part of Mountlake Terrace and part of northwest Seattle.

Evan Smith can be reached at schsmith@frontier.com.


2 comments:

Anonymous,  March 28, 2014 at 9:52 AM  

Thank you Senator Chase for having the courage to stand up for Democracy! Public Utilities belong to all of the citizens who pay to operate them. The city scheme is to use utilities to bankroll development schemes! Let the development community pay for their needs out of the tremendous profits they make. Can our house members here in the 32nd weigh in on why this bill failed to get through the house? Who supported it and who opposed it and why?

Anonymous,  March 28, 2014 at 2:22 PM  

With or without a state bill, the City of Shoreline should allow voters to decide this issue. All the City does is endlessly beat the drum that they and Ronald Wastewater agreed to the assumption 12 years ago. So what? Who cares?

The City has kept the assumption issue as low key as they could. They never asked the voters or even publicized the landmark 2002 agreement in their monthly Currents. Moreover, that agreement specifically forbids Ronald from itemizing on ratepayers bills the fee they have been paying to the City ever since in exchange for stalling off the assumption until 2017. Even the City's own comprehensive plan (updated as recently as December 2012) mentions only the "potential assumption of Ronald Wastewater District," yet the City now talks like assumption has always been a done deal.

Voters created Ronald 53 years ago. Voters now ought to be the ones to decide whether to hand over the wastewater utility to the City. The City will tell you an election would be too expensive. Are they saying our community cannot afford democracy? They could have put this issue on the ballot at the general election, at little marginal cost to the voters. And they don't seem to have a problem conducting a perfunctory and equally costly "unification efficiency study" to rubberstamp a decision they made 12 (some would say 20) years ago. Sitting Ronald Commissioner Bob Ransom warned as a councilmember 12 years ago that waiting 15 years to assume the District would cause trouble, and he was right. This city belongs to the living.

A big thanks to that small group in Shoreline that has been dedicated to keeping the spotlight on this contentious community issue.

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