Cottage Lake Citizens Solution: Tax the Suckers?
by Stan Merrell, Friends of Cottage Lake
The Guest Column of November 20th by Wally Buscher brought many points up for discussion concerning the possibility of improving, or at least stabilizing, the water quality in Cottage Lake. I take this opportunity for another point of view without questioning Mr. Buscher's commitment to saving the lake.
Absolutely true, a Lake Management District (LMD) is a legal creation to allow collection of taxes. A LMD has to have some very specific characteristics to qualify:
Thus, an LMD is a creation of the people who voted for its existence and purpose, demonstrating local control by a community.
- An LMD can only exist for a specific period of up to 10 years.
- An LMD has to have a specific purpose and plan for the funds raised.
- An LMD is formed by the property owners in a community who decide how much money is to be raised, projects to be funded, the boundaries of the LMD, the rate structure, and how long the LMD will last.
- An LMD is formed by vote of the property owners and approved by the County Council.
Existing property taxes certainly are higher because of the increased value of land on a lake. However, as the lake deteriorates, the property values no longer rise or may go down, affecting taxes. So it is in the self-interest of lake residents and all those who use the lake, through the public access at the Cottage Lake Park, to improve the quality of the lake.
The study of Cottage Lake by Surface Water Management over the last two years clearly identifies the major water quality problems and recommends solutions. There is sufficient water flowing through the lake to keep it reasonably clean except for two major factors affecting water quality: (1) excessive nutrients flowing in from upstream and released from lake sediments; and (2) nutrients generated because there is little or no dissolved oxygen in the water at the bottom of the lake during the summer months.
Unfortunately, the SWM Report did not effectively deal with the issues of identifying and isolating non-point pollution sources, only with reducing the self-pollution of the lake. Negotiations with likely upstream polluters will soon be in process, but there are few legal remedies. Hopefully, voluntary efforts will be adequate. Many citizens do not willfully pollute--most people want to do what's right.
The size, tax structure, and life of an LMD are all parameters to be determined by the citizens (suckers) who agree to solve a problem in their best interest. For example: the LMD could specify that those living on the lake are taxed at some fixed dollar amount, those a couple of houses off the lake at another, the King County Park could be taxed based on attendance, and residents in the Cottage Lake drainage basin could be taxed at a small dollar amount, representing the community value of a clean lake.
The issue raised by Mr. Buscher concerning sewers has little relevance to what is being considered by forming an LMD. The likelihood of the area being serviced by a sewer district is small. With the present zoning density, it would be completely out of the question from a cost/benefit standpoint. The SWM study revealed that only 5% of the total amount of phosphorous (nutrient) in Cottage Lake comes from failed septic systems, and several systems that appear to have failed were identified. A properly-maintained septic tank appears to have little impact on lake water quality.
It seems to me that we, all of us living in the community around the lake, are the ones to improve lake quality. We are both largely responsible for and have the most to gain from improvement. Why should the State or the County take on that responsibility? Mr.Buscher seems to want it both ways: our present taxes and reviled bureaucrats should solve the problem and at the same time, he doesn't trust the same bureaucrats to be involved in any funds the LMD might raise.
Friends of Cottage Lake (FOCL) is going ahead with a plan to design an LMD that voters will support and approve. We need all the help we can get in that process. I invite Mr. Buscher and others to come to the FOCL meetings, to join FOCL ($5.00 per year dues) so we have an audible political voice, and to help search for possible government and/or private grant funds to help with the costs. We also need a team to help educate all watershed residents and to negotiate with upstream landowners who might be willing to cooperate and change behaviors.
Who knows, we might just be able to turn Cottage Lake over to our children in no worse condition or even better than we found it. I'm one sucker who would like that.