Northwest NEWS

November 15, 1999


Eastern King County should fight SWM fee extension

   King County's proposed budget rates "show dramatic increases for all WLRD funds." WLRD stands for Water & Land Resources Division and includes what formerly was known as SWM (Surface Water Management). It's been proposed to increase the current SWM fee in already-covered areas and extend the program to eastern King County. Some background information may help taxpayers determine whether or not to support fee increases and/or program extension.

   In 1985, the Eastside close-in suburbs (later downsized under the Growth Management Act to Rural Area) voted for a drainage utility and its accompanying fee to control increased flooding from new development. However, at later workshops where most complaints centered on flooding from too-small or misplaced culverts, we were told by SWM that culverts were the Road Department's problem.

   A 1990 county mailing said that the SWM Utility was "Established to control urban drainage, manage a flood warning system, and maintain major river channels and storm drainage systems in the interest of preventing property damage and protecting the environment."

   After adoption of the drainage utility, the backs of our tax statements said: "(SWM) Surface Water Management. This is not a tax, but a charge against certain property in unincorporated King County or the City of Seattle. The revenues from these charges are used to control surface water runoff..." Rural eastern King County was exempted from the program because of its extensive water-holding open space.

   From the very beginning, our stormwater runoff-control fees have been spent on fish habitat, not flood control. For years, King County Councilman Larry Phillips, chair of the Regional Water Quality Committee, has promoted extension of the SWM fee to all unicorporated King County, and to whatever cities will go along, as a fish habitat financing measure. Another measure already passed by the Council increased the King Conservation District charge by 67% to fund fish.

   The Washington State Supreme Court set guidelines for fees, as opposed to taxes:

  1. The service for which the fee is charged must be specifically identified.

  2. The government entity must do a study to determine cost of the "service".

  3. The fee must not exceed the actual costs of the "service".

  4. Fee revenues must be monitored and tracked to services actually provided.
   The SWM-fee-millions spent on fish habitat do not comprise the flood control we voted for. Whatever flood control has been accomplished by SWM is window dressing, fronting for fish habitat.

   Eastern King County should not submit to the SWM fee extension without a fight. There are multitudinous federal, state, and local programs and funding sources to protect fish habitat. Flooding is a seperate problem needing its own funding.

   East King County flooding is related more to snowmelt and lack of dredging than to the urban development flooding supposedly covered by SWM fees.

Maxine Keesling, Woodinville