To the editor:
The individuals opposed to Shoreline’s Proposition 1 continually focus on two issues: the utility tax and the notion that Shoreline Water District should be the one purchasing the Seattle Public Utility (SPU) water utility. They speak to these issues with some heavy accusations towards the city and some improbable scenarios that they are trying to convince voters will happen, if Shoreline voters pass Prop 1.
Currently, under State law, there is no utility tax limit, to the amount a City can charge a water utility it owns. The opposition claims, the City of Shoreline wants to acquire the water utility, just so it can raise the utility tax to pay for other City services, and they stress there is no limit to what Shoreline can charge. What they fail to mention is that Seattle presently has that same power, which they have exercised with the Shoreline ratepayers. Seattle currently imposes a 15 percent utility tax on water services to Shoreline. Seattle collects that tax from Shoreline’s SPU ratepayers and it goes into Seattle’s general fund to pay for Seattle’s parks, police, fire, sidewalks, neighborhood centers, etc. Because the rate is set by the Seattle City Council, Shoreline ratepayers have no say in how the tax is set or in how the money is spent.
If Shoreline were to own the utility, we would have a say in how the utility tax rate is set, and the money collected would go towards Shoreline parks, Shoreline neighborhoods, Shoreline police - our community. The question for Shoreline voters is, would you rather have no input in how much utility tax you pay and have all of the money you pay go to Seattle, or would you rather have a say, and have your money stay here in Shoreline.
What the opposition also fails to mention is the fact that your Shoreline City Council currently has unlimited utility taxing authority with its stormwater and solid waste utilities. Under State law there is no limit to the amount a city may charge for a utility tax for stormwater and solid waste services. However, the City of Shoreline has maintained a 6 percent utility tax on solid waste services since it was first imposed in 2000, and a 6 percent utility tax on stormwater services since it was first imposed in 2005. Since 2000, Seattle’s utility tax on water has gone from 10 percent to 15 percent to 19 percent and then back to 15 percent.
If the City truly wanted to take over SPU just to hike up the utility tax, why isn’t it doing it now with solid waste and stormwater? Could it be that the City is interested in acquiring SPU facilities in Shoreline in order to improve water services for residents west of I-5 and giving them a voice in how their utility is operated ?
It is baffling why those who oppose Proposition 1 are so eager to keep Shoreline ratepayers subsidizing Seattle. SPU spokesman, Andy Ryan, stated it best when he said this about Shoreline. “They’re (Shoreline) a profit center for us. We’re making a fair amount of money.” (July 30, 2012, Publicola article Utility Sale to Shoreline Could Cost City $2 Million a Year, Increase Water Rates). It’s time Shoreline started looking out for itself and stopped being a profit center for Seattle.
The opposition’s other claim is that Shoreline Water District can purchase the water utility from SPU and the city is not letting this happen! FACT: SPU has stated that it has no interest in selling the utility to any entity other than the City of Shoreline. As the City of Seattle explains it, this is as a jurisdictional issue between cities and is in keeping with the principles outlined in the Growth Management Act (GMA). The GMA essentially states that urban services should be provided by cities.
The City of Seattle recognizes that for regional planning purposes, it should be the City of Shoreline that controls its water utility. If the City of Shoreline is not the utility operator, then that role should remain with the City of Seattle. If the voters do not pass Prop 1, they will continue to be served by SPU, and have to endure the current state of taxation without any representation.
Unfortunately, as much as Shoreline Water District hopes that the failure of Prop 1 will open up the possibility of negotiating with Seattle Public Utilities, to own and operate this system, Seattle and SPU have made it clear that will never happen. Shoreline Water District’s opposition of Prop 1 will never result in SPU offering to sell these facilities to Shoreline Water District. Unfortunately, the ratepayers lose.
It has taken the City over ten years to finally get to a point where Seattle is prepared to sell the water system, at a price both parties consider fair. Shoreline citizens should not let this opportunity pass us by. With the majority of elected officials in both cities supporting this sale, this may be a once in a lifetime opportunity. The sale price and separation costs when approved by the voters, leaves no question as to the maximum amount authorized by the voters. THERE IS NO BLANK CHECK being authorized by us. The voters are authorizing a specific amount, and that is the amount, that has to be accepted by both SPU and Seattle.
I want my water facilities to be properly maintained and improved as needed, something that has not happened under SPU, but, most of all, I want to have the opportunity and ability to offer my input when the utility rates and taxes I am asked to pay, are established. City ownership of the water system will allow us, the rate payers, local control. Vote YES on Shoreline Proposition 1.
Shoreline Fire Commissioner and SPU Steering Committee member