Editor's Note: Below is a response by Lakewood City Councilman Don Anderson contesting
Lakewood faced a grave need to extend sewers to unserved areas when it incorporated in 1996. Pierce County did not develop sewers in significant urban areas of Lakewood, notably Tillicum and Woodbrook.
Public health, sanitation, water quality, and development were affected. Without raising property taxes or imposing LID assessments on property owners, Lakewood recently completed an $18,000,000 sewer extension project. This has already resulted in the construction of a new McDonald’s restaurant and the issuance of the first permits to Habitat for Humanity for a planned build of 33 new homes in Tillicum.
Neither would have been possible without the new sewers.
These sewer improvements are being transferred to the Pierce County Sewer Utility for operation in exchange for a 6 precent franchise fee. If the City were to operate its own sewer, it would set rates and charge sewer related taxes and fees, the revenue from which would go into its general fund.
Senator Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, has stated his belief that Lakewood has with the franchise fee. He has also erroneously stated that in addition to an existing Lakewood surcharge of $3.25 per month, households will be charged an additional $4 per month.
In each case, he is incorrect.
The surcharge and franchise fee together total $4.07 per month, bringing the total monthly residential charge (ironically including a state tax) to $42.63. The franchise fee, which is set at 6 percent, is in line with other franchise fees and taxes charged to utilities within the City of Lakewood, such as the Lakewood Water District.
This total sewer charge is one of the lowest in the area. It is the same as in Tacoma, $10 per month less than in Olympia, and $20 per month less than in Puyallup.
Lakewood is hardly “lining its pockets.” Though it was primarily funded by grants, the City expended thousands of hours of staff time and incurred substantial expense in connection with the recently completed extension project. Under its agreement with Pierce County, Lakewood is financially responsible for reimbursing the County for all costs and expenses incurred in any prospective relocation of sewer facilities as the result of freeway and street construction, an obligation which could be significant. When work on the sewer system is accomplished anywhere in Lakewood, cuts in streets, though patched, cause pavement degradation adding to the City’s financial burdens.
Lakewood is one of the most efficiently run and revenue challenged municipalities in the State of Washington. Its per capita property and sales tax revenue for 2010 was $231.01. This compares to per capita revenues of $424.25 in Tacoma and $586.28 in Puyallup. Out of 65 comparable cities, Lakewood is the seventh lowest in per capita taxation.
Many of Senator Carrell’s objections to the sewer franchise fee were made in a court challenge which was summarily rejected by the Superior Court. The franchise fee is not only legal, it is inherently reasonable in light of Lakewood’s conservative fiscal practices.
Lakewood strives to efficiently provide essential public services. Extending the ability to sanitarily flush toilets to additional urban residential areas and to maintain the roads under which those sewers flow are certainly essential functions. Additional restrictions and unfunded mandates from the legislature only serve to interfere with sound local management of local issues.