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Letter to the Editor: Rebuttal to Mayor and Deputy Mayor's Statements on Prop. 1

The City of Shoreline does not want voters to know that there is another option: direct representation by special-purpose utility run by an elected board that is accountable to the citizens.

To the editor:

The campaign comments submitted to Shoreline Lake Forest Park Patch by Shoreline Mayor Keith McGlashan and Deputy Mayor Chris Eggen contain partial truths and misinformation that I would like to address.

It is agreed that citizens on the West side of Seattle deserve to be directly represented.  Indeed, if Shoreline Water District had been allowed to continue negotiations with Seattle Public Utilities to acquire the west side water system, back in 2005 it is quite likely that they would now have direct representation under the care of Shoreline Water District.

They don’t and here’s why: The negotiations were abruptly ended when the City of Shoreline put political pressure on the Shoreline Water District to drop the idea.

The City of Shoreline does not want voters to know that there is another option: direct representation by special-purpose utility run by an elected board that is accountable to the citizens.

They don’t want voters to know that special-purpose utilities do the same job as city-owned utilities but at less cost with better maintenance.

They don’t want voters to know Seattle Public Utilities is refraining from negotiating with the Shoreline Water District at the request of the City of Shoreline. (I have the email thread between Seattle Public Utilities and Shoreline that documents this).

Shoreline Water District and Seattle Public Utilities have a history of collaborating with each other. They attend some of the same meetings and must work collaboratively when projects cross jurisdictions. If Proposition 1 does not pass, then Seattle will be free to enter into negotiations with whomever they choose.

Now, about the 14 percent surcharge and the 15.5 percent utility tax west side ratepayers pay to SPU. That is 29.5 percent: a pretty hefty price. People assume that if Shoreline buys SPU that these charges and taxes will go away and they will be paying less.

Don’t be fooled. According to the City of Shoreline, they plan to increase the rates to equal the future rate increases already approved for SPU, plus the 29.5 percent now paid for surcharge and utility tax. At a recent meeting, Public Works Director Mark Relph said the City of Shoreline plans to keep rates the same for “at least three years to make sure that our water billing system is accurate”.

The 6 percent franchise fee SPU currently pays to Shoreline’s general fund would be replaced with a utility tax. West side ratepayers would still pay taxes on water. Shoreline Water District ratepayers don’t – and never will. (Unless the City of Shoreline is successful in taking it over)

Now, what happens after three years?

According to the City of Shoreline’s own documentation, they will have to raise rates, defer maintenance, raise taxes, or all three.

The article claims that the SPU purchase is not related to Shoreline Water District and that there is no interest in taking over Shoreline Water District. 

The authors apparently have not been paying attention to the Planning Commission or reports they have received from them. The City of Shoreline’s Comprehensive Plan Amendment states: “The City has established goals to become a service provider of sewer and water services within Shoreline.” It’s all there for anyone to see. Planning Commission meeting Agenda August 16, 2012.

Pages 129 and 130 of the September 20, 2012 Planning Commission agenda, item 6.A , discusses the consolidation of Seattle Public Utilities and Shoreline Water District under city control.

The authors also have apparently not been informed by city staff of conversations that have taken place among Seattle City Council members. In the July 30th Seattle City Council meeting, Council member Jean Godden stated” “Shoreline wants to become a full-service city.”

 What does Jean Godden know that our own council does not? Does that mean the Shoreline City Council also want to take over Ronald Wastewater District? Does the City of Shoreline plan to go into the electric power business by taking over Seattle City Light’s system within Shoreline.

The authors deny any interest in assuming control of Shoreline Water District, but know this: If the citizens of Shoreline approve Proposition 1, the City of Shoreline will be able to assume control of Shoreline Water District without another vote of the people because they will already own 60% of the water infrastructure within Shoreline.

The City of Shoreline says that it is unlikely that an independent utility district will ever exist in North King County even if Proposition 1 does not pass. However, there are citizens already organizing an effort to establish an independent utility so that citizens on the west side will finally receiving high-quality water service without paying taxes for the privilege of using water.

There’s more. The City of Shoreline’s argument that if Shoreline Water District were to take over the west side, it would have to equalize rates citywide is not quite accurate.

In the first place, Shoreline Water District has a healthy reserve, so it is in a much better position financially to take over SPU than the City of Shoreline. Secondly, the district already has sufficient water storage capacity, equipment, and personnel, efficiently overseen by a lean administration, so it would not have to spend as much as Shoreline City Hall , with all of City Hall’s overhead, to expand service to the west side. 

If there are specific areas that need greater investment than others, such as the southeastern area, Shoreline Water District could charge more for that specific area until such time as the infrastructure upgrades are paid for. In a public meeting, Shoreline Water District Manager Diane Pottinger said the district could take care of the southeastern area for $1 million per mile of line. The City of Shoreline would have to spend more because it would have to build up storage capacity in addition to installing lines.

The City argues that it is more efficient than special-purpose utilities like Shoreline Water District. If that is the case, then nationwide, why do city-owned utilities typically cost more than special-purpose utilities like the district?  Why are my rates under Shoreline Water District less than those in the SPU area?

A fundamental difference between a special-purpose utility and a city utility is that city government has more layers of administration, is subject to political influences and changing priorities, such as catering to the interests of politically powerful developers. A special-purpose utility like Shoreline Water District charges rates that cover the costs of service. It cannot charge you taxes for the privilege of using water, it must reinvest revenue into the utility, and it must accumulate reserves to use in case of emergency. It is answerable to a board of citizens that you, the voters, elect.

One more thing. The City of Shoreline is motivated by a desire to attract large scale development to Shoreline. No surprise there; developers’ agendas have always perked up ears at City Hall. Did you know that the City of Shoreline believes that the cost of connecting large-scale development to water utilities should be paid by ratepayers instead of developers?

This was brought out in the October 4th Planning Commission meeting notes. Conversely, Shoreline Water District and Ronald Wastewater District charge developers to “buy in” to the system according to the actual cost of providing service. Current ratepayers are not forced to subsidize the costs of serving new development.

Bottom line:

Special-purpose utilities like Shoreline Water District are more efficient and better managed than city-owned utilities. They do one thing well, avoid mission creep, are not subject to political influence by developers, and they will never tax you for the privilege of using water. If you agree, vote NO on Proposition 1. 

Wendy DiPeso

Shoreline

Karen Easterly-Behrens October 10, 2012 at 04:00 PM
Thank you for a thoughtful and thorough rebuttal to the letter disseminated by our City Council members. What is needed is an honest representation of the city's needs and the goal of what is proposed to get us there. We as citizens, should be the ones who guide the priorities of our city....especially during challenging times such as these. If the guiding purpose for our city government is to operate in sunlight with honesty and transparency instead of catchy slogans and permutations of the truth, they have missed the mark.
Tracy Tallman October 10, 2012 at 04:19 PM
It just makes good sense to have the City of Shoreline take over this part of the water district from Seattle. I trust Shoreline's government to run a utility properly. There was a lot of research that went into making this proposal. The City staff are experts should be given more credit for their expertise.
Carol Hiltner October 16, 2012 at 03:36 PM
My letter to Patch was apparently not published, so I will refer to it here: Here are excerpts from Les Nelson's letter opposing Prop 1. Les is a water utility engineer with 38 years' experience and spent his personal time as a member of the SPU/Shoreline steering committee, attending all meetings including engineering subcommittee meetings. Les says: "Factual information showing that SPU does an excellent job managing the water system were initially presented by the City of Shoreline’s consultant. "My reasons for not approving the acquisition were based on: "§ The likelihood of rates going up. "§ SPU has a far superior maintenance and support system than Shoreline will ever be able to match. "§ The separation of the system from SPU detracts from system redundancy, detracts from emergency water storage and requires new tanks to be constructed, a huge expenditure (many tens of millions). "§ As customers, we already own the water system; why purchase it again?"
Tony Dondero October 16, 2012 at 05:03 PM
Carol, I've checked my e-mail and don't see that a letter was submitted from you. If you want to submit a letter please do so. Tony

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