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Sunnyside Council repeals stormwater fees

The Sunnyside City Council last night rescinded all stormwater utility fees approved last December. Now the city will go back to the drawing board on the fee assessments, as all the fees were repealed.

City staff had sought to continue assessing the fee against residential users, while repealing only that part of the ordinance that applied to industrial and business land owners. By assessing stormwater fees on residents, City Manager Eric Swansen said Sunnyside would have been able to bring in about $100,000 of the $500,000 it's budgeted to receive.

Council shot down the idea by a 5-2 vote, with councilmen Tom Gehlen and Bill Gant in the minority.

Councilwoman Theresa Hancock called for the entire stormwater utility fee ordinance to be repealed, stricken from the city books.

"To me this muddies it even more than how it already has been," she said of the initial proposal to continue levying stormwater fees on residents, a rate that will surely go up as the city looks to decrease the amount paid by industry and business. "Rescind the whole thing," she added.

Gehlen disagreed, noting that since it's industrial and business land owners that are unhappy, those properties should be dealt with and leave residential rates as is.

Hancock initially motioned to repeal the entire ordinance, but on advice of City Attorney Mark Kunkler agreed to a move to repeal all of the fee structures and keep the ordinance in place.

The stormwater discussion also included a debate over equipment the city is charging to the stormwater fund. In a response to a question by Hancock, Public Works Director Jim Bridges re-affirmed that the equipment is all 2007 models and earlier, leased before the current stormwater fees were assessed.

"I'm ready to fight, you're getting in my pocket book pretty heavy," resident and local businessman Pete Sartin said during public testimony on the stormwater rates. "You cannot charge all this equipment to stormwater, Eric," Sartin said to Swansen. "I feel for you but this is not a budget balancing situation."

Swansen replied that the equipment is not funded solely through stormwater, but that it is also assessed against other city funds, such as streets.

In related news, the Sunnyside City Council will meet tomorrow, Wednesday, at 6:30 p.m. in council chambers to begin the process of appointing a blue ribbon citizens committee to make recommendations on a new fee structure.

Even with all the stormwater fees out of the way, Sunnyside will still need to continue its program. Swansen said later last night that the city will work from its $80,000 reserves in the stormwater fund during the 60 days the blue ribbon committee is expected to take in coming up with recommendations

The reserves are in place to build up a capital fund for when the city needs to begin infrastructure projects for stormwater.

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