B-and-B owners irked by utility surcharge

It may not seem like a lot of money, but to Kathy and Gil Michael, owners of the Cedar Cove Inn, an $18-per-bedroom surcharge on their water and sewer bill was simply too much.

The Michaels, who operate their bed-and-breakfast at 228 Seattle Avenue, and others operating similar businesses found an extra surcharge in September on their water and sewer bills.

The $18 per bedroom fee, for the Michaels, added up to $126 per billing cycle and $756 per year.

To the couple, the fee seemed unwelcoming to their new business after paying the various fees for starting up a business.

Kathy Michael brought the issue to the council at its regular meeting Tuesday evening.

“You’re not even up and moving and you’re hit with another fee,” Kathy Michael said.

Running a bed-and-breakfast straddles the lines of residency and commercial business. The city requires the business to also be a single-occupancy residence, with the owners living in-house, but it’s also a business.

Bed-and-breakfasts were met with the fee while lumped with other occupancy businesses, such as senior homes and jails.

But Michael said the bed-and-breakfasts don’t receive the other benefits of being a strictly commercial business, and argued that the city accommodates larger corporate developments at the cost of those locally owned.

“It’s outrageous that you’re comparing a two-bedroom bed-and-breakfast to a rest home or a nursing home that has full occupancy 24-7,” Michael said.

The Michaels attempted to meet with the city’s Utility Committee, made up of three council members, and they were deferred to the December meeting.

But the committee discussed the issue, and made a final decision before then.

“It seems to be a total disregard and lack of respect for input from those of us that are most impacted by the decisions that are made,” Michael said. “And not being included in the process is demeaning.”

Councilman Rob Putaansuu was on the committee, and said the slight was unintended.

Michael blamed the city’s Public Works Director, Maher Abed, by title but not by name, saying the decision was made without the proper information and without including those most affected.

“I think the Utility Committee made their decision based on very misleading information,” Michael said. “We’re very done, very done with what appears to be a misuse of power and information.”

They requested the issue be addressed again, this time with input from owners of bed-and-breakfasts, comparing the water use of B-and-Bs with that of single-occupancy homes of a similar size.

Kathy Michael also presented information from other towns, such as Port Angeles, Everett and Edmonds, that do not place surcharges on such facilities, but Councilman Fred Chang said he wanted to see more information from similar towns, such as Poulsbo or other water-side municipalities in Kitsap County.

Councilman Jerry Childs immediately sided with the Michaels’ concerns, noting that he has previously paid school impact fees on a home in Bainbridge Island when he did not have any children.

He said he opposes fining people in this way.

“I just think that bed-and-breakfasts add to the community,” Childs said.

Rob Putaansuu noted that the council is juggling a number of issues regarding utilities, such as a state-mandated stormwater utility in the works.

“It’s not that we’re trying to ignore this,” Putaansuu said. “We just haven’t had time to get to it.”

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