Commissioners OK stormwater fee hike

The Kitsap County commissioners on Monday unanimously approved a gradual increase to Surface and Stormwater Management (SSWM) fees, despite testimony from several residents that the assessment represented a form of taxation without representation.

“This does sound like a tax increase,” said Central Kitsap Commissioner Patty Lent. “But you are getting a specific service for the extra money you pay.”

The current rate is $50 per “service unit,” which corresponds to each developed parcel.

Businesses pay one service unit per 4,200 square feet. So a department store would pay a prorated fee for the area occupied by the store and the parking lot.

The money will be used to support the construction and maintenance of storm drains and flood systems. A separate part of the fund is allocated to replace components before they collapse.

The resolution raises the assessment incrementally, building to $69.80 per unit by 2010. The amount is tacked on to the property tax bill.

“When we survey our citizens about what is important, water quality is always at the top of the list,” said North Kitsap Commissioner Chris Endresen. “So I don’t think they will object to spending a little extra money each year, especially since water quality has improved.”

Only one of the seven who spoke out at Monday’s meeting supported the program. Five speakers identified themselves as members of the Kitsap Alliance of Property Owners (KAPO).

“This is not a fee,” said KAPO Executive Director Vivian Henderson. “It is a tax. We should call it what it is. This has not been a public process, and the county has made no effort to tell us what is going on. It is incumbent on the county to say why they need this money.”

KAPO has not taken a position on SSWM, but its members addressing the commissioners expressed some support for the program — but not for the way it was passed.

“KAPO isn’t questioning the rate increase per se,” said Port Orchard consultant William Palmer. “It’s just the lack of information and lack of public process in allocating what is a significant part of the county budget. Sixty-nine dollars isn’t a lot of money for most people, but they need to know it is being properly spent.”

Dick Brown of Port Orchard said it was “important that we did not stick it to the old people” with the increase. Later, South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel said senior citizens will get the same discount on SSWM fees as they do on property taxes.

Cara Cruickshank of Bainbridge Island was the only speaker who encouraged the commissioners to enact the proposal.

“We need to look at the broader picture,” she said. “Geographically speaking, Puget Sound is like a lake and it doesn’t flush very well. It takes money to protect what we have, and if we don’t spend it now it will get worse and worse.”

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