Story Time

Street maintenance utility tax is for the birds

How much are you paying in utility bills? Here in Sunnyside?

I live just outside the city limits so am not privy to that information. But being curious, I asked my father, who's been a long-time Sunnyside resident. He and his wife live in a modest, two-bedroom home in the Carnation district here in town. I figured his city utility bill would be about on par, close to average, with the bills that are delivered monthly to other local residents.

He pulled from his files the bill from October 2009. The utility charges included $3.98 for an ambulance assessment, $10.06 to haul away his three cans of trash, $43.51 for a sewer assessment, $39.63 for use of city water, $5.59 for some type of city tax and 36 cents for a state tax. That came to $103.13.

The previous month, for September 2009, the total was approximately $114.

Whether or not Sunnyside utility bills run high or low compared to other nearby cities, I do not know. What does strike me is that $100-plus a month to receive basic services is, well...not exactly a pittance.

Factor in that city officials will soon have to start assessing local residents another charge to handle stormwater issues, those monthly utility bills are only going to climb higher.

On the heels of all this is a piece of legislation making its way through Olympia, House Bill 2618, which if approved will make local residents' city-issued utility bills even more costly. The bill grants cities and towns the authority to establish a street utility tax. Proponents refer to it as a street utility fee, but come on...a tax is a tax is a tax.

What disappoints me about this piece of legislation is that a lawmaker from our neighboring 14th District, Yakima's Norm Johnson, a self-proclaimed Republican, isn't opposed to it. Oh, Johnson wants it amended so that the bill doesn't give cities blanket authority to charge whatever they wish for street maintenance and repairs. His amendment would give citizens an opportunity to vote and decide for themselves whether their taxes should be raised.

Bottom line, though, is that inevitably cities would begin holding their residents hostage, threatening that if they didn't approve a new tax, the roads in their neighborhoods would be left unattended, basically allowing them to go to pot. Let me rephrase that, allowing them to go to pothole.

Johnson, like many former school educators who seem to think that money grows on trees, recognizes that this piece of legislation doesn't specify exactly how much cities would be able to charge local taxpayers. He's apparently comfortable in the language of the bill that states the utility rates "...are intended to be adequate to provide revenues sufficient for the street maintenance utility service, including payment of principal and interest on any bonds."

Interestingly, the proposed street maintenance utility also includes penalty provisions for those citizens who are more than 60 days late in paying the tax. The penalty? Cities would be able to impose a lien against the ratepayers' property.

The government has enough mechanisms in place to tax the crap out of us. We don't need our local lawmakers approving yet one more way to get into our pockets.

I encourage you to contact your local legislators and tell them firmly, and not so politely, to shove this taxing mechanism into a place where the sun doesn't shine.

- Bob Story can be contacted

at 509-837-4500, or email


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