On the Mayor's Mind -The City’s Assumption of Ronald Wastewater

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Shoreline Mayor
Shari Winstead
On the Mayor’s Mind
August 25, 2014
Shoreline’s Assumption
of Ronald Wastewater

You may have recently seen the City’s press release about the decision of the King County Boundary Review Board to have their staff prepare a resolution to allow the City of Shoreline to move ahead with its intent to assume Ronald Wastewater District (“RWD”). And like many of my friends and neighbors, you are probably wondering, “what is that all about?”

Even people who follow city issues closely are a little confused. I’ve written a lot of columns about the festivals and fun in Shoreline this summer, so I thought you might be interested in something with a little more meat. Here goes:

When Shoreline was part of unincorporated King County, before it became a city, many of our services were provided by what is known as a “special district” - like Ronald Wastewater District. Many of these special districts existed to provide services, like water and sewer. This worked well, because there was no local city government to deliver those services at that time.

However, as more and more cities incorporated, and the Growth Management Act was passed in 1990, which states that cities are the preferred providers of all municipal services (including water and sewer), it became common for cities to assume these districts and start providing the services under the city’s umbrella. Even the first group of citizens who worked to incorporate Shoreline saw this as a future opportunity for Shoreline, and knew we would one day be faced with providing these services.

In 2002, the City and Ronald Wastewater signed an agreement explicitly stating that the City would assume RWD in 2017. It also stipulated that RWD pay the city a fee each year for delaying the assumption until 2017, because the City did have the legal right to assume RWD as soon as it became a city. This agreement was willingly signed by elected officials from the City and RWD. This was before my time, of course, but I can certainly understand the logic in waiting until the City had more experience as a municipal government before taking on the duties of managing the sewer utility.

Fast forward to 2014. The agreement also stated that at least 24 months prior to assumption, the City and RWD would work together to assure a seamless transition for the ratepayers. The City filed its Notice of Intent to assume the district in May 2014, formed a transition committee, which includes two councilmembers and two RWD Commissioners.

A challenge was brought to our right to assume the district, and that is what the Boundary Review Board hearing (and affirmative ruling in King County) is about. This situation is difficult because about 99% of the Ronald Wastewater District service area is in Shoreline and King County. RWD also serves a small portion of Snohomish County (adjacent to Shoreline) - a few houses in Woodway, and the Point Wells area. This makes it a cross-county issue, which means next week we will be having another hearing in front of the Snohomish County Boundary Review Board.

A few people have addressed the Council at our meetings, and asked why this is so important to the City, and why we didn’t ask the citizens to vote on whether we should assume RWD. I want to give you my opinion on this. And please remember that the views stated in this column are only mine - not necessarily the other councilmember’s.

Having sewer service provided by the City gives us economies of scale. One elected board to make decisions, one building to occupy, one human resources department, a shared city attorney’s office, etc. Many of us hear (and even say) we want less government. Well, this actually accomplishes that by consolidating services. The City already operates a utility, surface water management, and has a Public Works Director and other employees who are familiar with running utilities. We know we can do this. We are also contractually obligated to have all the RWD employees become City employees - and we are excited about that! We will need employees to do the work -why would we not want good, experienced employees? It’s a bonus to us.

But our most important reason for wanting to assume the sewer service and in the future consolidating the water utility is to develop the infrastructure of the City in a coordinated, cost effective manner. Simply put, by having control of the utilities, we will be able to plan projects, and to make all the necessary improvements at the same time. It means only having to tear up a road once, replacing sewer pipes, water pipes, etc. and doing the street work, all in a coordinated manner. More efficient and cost-saving for the tax payers - you and me. With light rail coming our way, it is more important than ever that we build up our infrastructure to support transit oriented development.

The second question concerns a public vote. The opinion of the citizens is of the utmost importance to everyone on the Council, that I know for sure. However, one thing I heard a well respected elected official say, years ago, was that we were elected to make decisions. Sometimes we are legally required to take an issue to a vote. But that is not the case here. The Council has no intention of raising the utility tax. We are simply consolidating the operations of Ronald Wastewater District with the City. Second, the City and RWD signed an agreement for assumption - that is a legal contract that gives both parties the right to move forward. Our goal is to make the transfer smooth and seamless, and to continue to provide great service for the ratepayers, just as the City provides great services to our citizens in caring for our streets, parks, issuing permits, etc.

We have a great track record and I am confident that we will continue to provide excellent service. And it will be great to see our infrastructure improved to a higher standard. There are plenty more reasons to not take a vote on this issue, in my opinion. Did you know that the cost of a vote is between $70,000 and $100,000 - (those are taxpayer’s dollars, not to mention the cost of campaigns). Shoreline citizens already voted to acquire the water system currently owned by Seattle that serves Shoreline. Many consider that vote to be a sign that the citizens want a full service city. Also, last year there were two new commissioners elected to RWD’s board, both of whom ran on a pro-assumption platform. I feel that the citizens have spoken. They want excellence and efficiency. The City can do that and we are working collaboratively with RWD to ensure that this happens.

I hope that helps you to understand a little bit more of what the Ronald Wastewater issue is all about.

Thanks for taking the time to read my column.


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